Russian airline completes massive airlift of medical supplies for France

The French government has ended a massive airlift of medical supplies from China to combat the spread of the deadly coronavirus after stockpiles were deemed sufficient.

Over the past three months, Russian carrier Volga-Dnepr operated 48 Antonov-124 freighter flights to deliver 3,000 tons of medical supplies. French logistics firm Geodis coordinated the operation.

The Cold War-era AN-124s, which were built in Ukraine, are the largest commercial cargo aircraft in use and are normally associated with irregular flights of large, heavy pieces of freight, including U.S. military equipment to the Middle East.

The French Ministry of Solidarity and Health hired Volga-Dnepr and Geodis to create an “air bridge” transporting much-needed face masks, surgical gowns and other protective gear from Shenzhen, China, to Paris for distribution to hospitals around the country.

According to Volga-Dnepr, its fleet of 12 AN-124s landed at Paris-Vatry airport every 48 hours from the start of April until the end of June. The carrier estimates it transported more than 1 million cubic feet of protective medical equipment from China to France during that time.

“This was a unique airlift challenge, given its size, frequency and the epidemiological factors that our operating crews and all stakeholders faced,” said Stuart Smith, Volga-Dnepr’s global director of humanitarian services, in a statement.

The airline said it also encountered flight crew quarantine restrictions, severe congestion at Chinese airports, and regulatory obstacles to Chinese exports. Geodis logistics staff worked closely with Volga-Dnepr to ease those burdens.

Other countries, such as the U.S., U.K., Spain and Germany, used similar air bridges involving commercial aircraft this spring to rush protective medical supplies from Chinese manufacturers to front-line hospital workers fighting the spread of COVID-19.

The U.S. program, dubbed “Project Airbridge,” also finished last month.

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Click for more FreightWaves/American Shipper articles by Chris Gillis.