At the end of this year of upheaval, it can be helpful to look back at some of the biggest stories from 2020. We at Air Cargo World have selected 10 of our top stories tracing the changes in the air cargo industry throughout the year. Read on for major stories of 2020.
The widespread use of passenger aircraft for cargo-only flights in 2020 prompted OEMs, MROs and carriers to seek out creative ways to increase cargo capacity on aircraft without main-deck capacity. This story details an example of the development of cargo containers for use in passenger cabins. Since these permanent cargo containers were developed mid-year, other temporary and permanent solutions have been utilized by airlines for these flights.
As the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) soared in the early months of the pandemic, governments scrambled to secure shipments of masks, gloves and other gear, primarily from the Asia-Pacific region. In the U.S., the Project Airbridge public-private partnership brought in carriers including UPS, FedEx and Atlas Air to move PPE by air for distribution throughout the U.S.
The lockdowns of 2020 resulted in an e-commerce boom surpassing the impressive growth in online retail from previous years. Major express companies have expanded and streamlined their operations to adapt to the increase in parcel shipments and, notably, DHL increased its U.S. footprint by opening its first owned retail store locations and pop-ups. More are planned for 2021, DHL said in a media briefing during Q3.
In some more positive news, 2020 saw some Middle Eastern countries beginning to normalize relations with Israel. In an early indicator of this shift, U.A.E.-based Etihad operated its first commercial flight to Israel, transporting medical supplies from Abu Dhabi (AUH) to Tel Aviv (TLV).
Before the pandemic’s impact was felt in North America, Amazon’s astounding network growth was foreshadowed as the e-commerce giant aimed at further expanding the expertise in its airfreight division. Since then, Amazon has built up its domestic network and expanded in Europe, with some forecasts expecting the e-tailer to compete in earnest with major integrators by 2021.
If 2019 airport operations were marked by slot shortages and long lines, 2020’s abrupt cancellation of passenger flights saw some hubs forced to make dramatic adjustments to accommodate more freighters and fewer passenger operations. Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, which began enforcing its slot restrictions to much industry consternation in recent years, has set them aside amid 2020’s upheaval to allow greater carrier flexibility.
Though at least tens of thousands of such flights have now been operated by carriers globally, the initial launch of cargo-only operations with passenger planes was a novel approach to the early capacity cliff in 2020. Trans-Atlantic capacity, which in the past has been particularly reliant on steady passenger flights, saw a particularly sharp drop-off, and the launch of cargo-only charters from Virgin Atlantic was met with great interest from the industry.
Middle Eastern carriers have been among the most active in operating passenger freighters in 2020, and have utilized large widebody aircraft to do so. U.A.E.-based Etihad has a sizable 787 passenger fleet alongside its 777 freighters and began deploying the 787s for cargo flights in March.
The dearth of air cargo capacity and questionable reliability and availability of ocean freight capacity in 2020, has led freight forwarders to seek out a mix of modal solutions to move cargo for its shipper customers. Whether flying into a hub and switching to road transport domestically, utilizing rail freight where available or offering a mixed approach of ocean, air and road, 3PLs have encouraged customers to book early and expect longer transit times in 2020.
Air Cargo World’s top story of 2020 illustrates the challenges that lay ahead for forwarders in securing capacity amid the pandemic. Along with other 3PLs, DHL Global Forwarding declared force majeure on its ocean and air shipments when the avalanche of cancellations meant it couldn’t guarantee capacity for its contractual shipments. Like other forwarders, DGF has since adjusted where possible, utilizing capacity when it’s available and, in some cases, chartering capacity. With airfreight capacity unlikely to fully rebound for some time, the same creative approach will likely be needed during the year ahead, as well.