Countries cut red tape to speed up cargo relief flights

Lufthansa plane on taxiway at airport.

Passenger and all-cargo airlines are welcoming the relaxation of non-safety related regulatory requirements by aviation authorities, which they say makes it easier to quickly launch flights carrying medical relief supplies or repatriated nationals stranded overseas by new coronavirus travel bans.

Several nations have implemented measures, such as excluding crew members from quarantines, to prevent disruption to all-cargo flights delivering ventilators, masks, medicines and other health- and hygiene-related products used to prevent and treat the COVID-19 disease, according to industry officials and international authorities.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, which normally manages traffic to control congestion and now is only open for core activities, has released takeoff and landing slots assigned to passenger airlines and made them available to cargo operators, a move that The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) said other airports should follow.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a UN body, is asking governments to facilitate the entry, departure and transit of aircraft engaged in relief flights, including granting overflight and landing rights. Existing bilateral and multilateral air trade agreements make it difficult to quickly change routes for carriers based in countries that aren’t signatories to them. 

ICAO is also reminding nations of their responsibility under international law to expedite customs clearance of goods during a health emergency.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) singled out the European Aviation Safety Agency and civil aviation authorities in the United Arab Emirates, China, Mexico and the U.K. for helping airlines cope with the COVID-19 crisis by extending time for licenses, ratings, endorsements, certificates, training and other requirements set to expire for aircrews, instructors, examiners, aircraft maintenance personnel, air traffic controllers and aircraft airworthiness reviews. 

Lufthansa Cargo thanked airport authorities at its home base in Frankfurt for reducing operational restrictions, which help airlines make quick adjustments during a time when flight schedules are changing constantly in response to dynamic developments.

Governments are cutting red tape in all sorts of areas to deal with an unprecedented pandemic that has virtually shut down the global economy. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration loosened rules so that private laboratories could test people for the coronavirus. The U.S. Department of Transportation waived rules governing how long truck drivers can remain behind the wheel each day. The U.S. Trade Representative is waiving tariffs on Chinese-made medical products, including personal protective gear, being used to combat the COVID-19 outbreak. And state governments are scraping procurement rules to speed the acquisition of needed medical supplies to hospitals.

“Aviation is built on partnership and working together. The actions taken by these regulators will provide airlines and licensed crew with the necessary flexibility for licence extensions without compromising safety. We urge others to quickly follow suit and grant similar short-term relief,” said Gilberto Lopez Meyer, IATA’s senior vice president for safety and flight operations, in a statement.

Recent decisions by Somalia and Djibouti to effectively ban all international flights, including cargo charters, for two weeks are concerning, TIACA Secretary General Vladimir Zubkhov said in the group’s weekly newsletter on March 20.

Zubkhov asked the ministers of transport in both countries to reconsider their decision. “In the current major crisis, airfreight is essential for the transport of food, basic necessities and health-related products – in other words everything necessary for people to survive. The global economy also needs airfreight to continue to supply businesses and factories,” he said in letters to both governments.

Last week, air transport groups urged governments to be more flexible with regard to freighter operations in coronavirus zones.