Industry asks for looser all-cargo flight rules during pandemic

FedEx plane takes off

Airfreight stakeholders are asking governments to exempt all-cargo carriers from certain health and operating rules because of their critical role in helping delivery medicines, medical equipment and medical supplies needed to combat the coronavirus.

Air cargo is also critical now for transporting food items and online purchases as people hunker down in their homes to minimize social contact.

Airlines and logistics partners say regulatory flexibility is especially important because shippers are heavily relying on freighter planes in the absence of international passenger networks, which airlines have largely shut down with the plunge in travel demand. More than 185,000 passenger flights have been canceled since the end of January, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). 

The airline trade group and The International Air Cargo Association, representing all parts of the air cargo supply chain, are urging governments to exempt air cargo operations from any COVID-19 travel restrictions to ensure life-saving medical products can be delivered without interruption. 

IATA also wants regulators to apply standardized measures for shipments and transport workers designed to protect transport workers from spreading or contracting the disease. It says that air cargo crew members who do not interact with the public should be exempt from 14-day quarantine periods. 

Governments should also grant temporary traffic rights for cargo operations where restrictions may apply, and remove economic impediments, such as overfly charges, parking fees and slot restrictions at congested airports, it said.

The U.S. and the European Union last week waived minimum requirements for airlines to fill allotted take-off and landing slots until the end of May and June, respectively.

“Air cargo carriers are working closely with governments and health organizations around the world to safeguard public health while also keeping the global economy moving. Today, as we fight a global health war against COVID-19, governments must take urgent action to facilitate air cargo. Keeping cargo flowing will save lives,” IATA Director General Alexandre de Juniac said in a statement.

Many industry groups are trying to get recognized as playing a role in protecting and supporting society during the health crisis so that normal safety and competition rules are relaxed and they can operate more easily under difficult circumstances.

In the U.S., the corrugated cardboard industry says essential products, including tissue and hygiene products are delivered in its boxes. The Fiber Box Association and the American Forest & Paper Association are asking governments to exempt their plants when drafting stay-home orders for states and localities to limit disruption to the supply chain. 
Highway safety regulators in the U.S. recently granted the trucking industry an exemption from hours-of-service rules, designed to protect against driver fatigue, for the transport of goods related to COVID-19. 

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has identified several critical industries that can be exempted from shelter-in-place requirements.