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Under pressure: air cargo stakeholders become flexible to deliver


Challenged by a lack of capacity and rising prices, air cargo stakeholders are adapting to the new normal in a bid to keep supply chains operational and economies running.

This is according to industry stakeholders who were participating in a webinar on the state of Africa’s air cargo sector amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The webinar, hosted by Messe Muenchen South Africa, the organizers of air cargo Africa Exhibition and Conference assessed the role and challenges of the air cargo sector as restrictions on movement play havoc with operations at airports, airlines, freight forwarders, and supply chains.

With many countries on lockdown or restricting movement, cargo capacity has been slashed, creating a challenge for a sector seeking to fulfill its critical role in transporting essential medical supplies and keep import and export goods moving. Panelists in the webinar said stakeholders had to adapt to the new normal, as restrictions would likely continue for months to come. “The current situation requires agility and innovation,” noted Moderator Reji John of STAT Media Group.

Fitsum Abadi, Managing Director of Ethiopian Cargo & Logistics said the airline had adapted quickly, pivoting to a cargo-only carrier and converting many of its passenger airlines to carry cargo. “I never expected to see cargo reclining on seats, but this is in fact what happened at first. We have now adapted by removing the seats of several passenger aircraft to repurpose them for freight, as well as optimizing capacity, making Addis Ababa and Lome key regional hubs, and deploying narrow-body aircraft to serve regional routes to meet demand.”

Stakeholders reported an increase of chartered flights carrying repatriated citizens, medical supplies, or humanitarian aid, which often arrived with little notice. Due to a lack of capacity, costs on scheduled cargo flights was challenging for producers of perishables for export – such as flowers.

Fabio Weiss, VP, Head of Air Freight Middle East & Africa at DHL Global Forwarding MEA said stakeholders were working together to adapt to the changed environment. “Capacity has declined, but demand is still there. There has been an imbalance of volumes coming into Africa that allow exports going out, and we need to get the mix right for the necessary yields and revenues. The current situation is not sustainable for anyone in the long term. However, we have been working with airports, airlines, and customers to find solutions that work for everyone.”  

“We are trying to adapt to the new normal as fast as possible,” said Max Conrady, Senior Vice President Cargo at Fraport AG. “We were used to stable, fixed flight plans, and the changes we are experiencing, with many chartered flights, have demanded flexibility from airports, cargo handlers, and supply chains. The many operational issues to be solved have demanded a new type of agility. But we are adapting to the new kind of normal, establishing contingency groups within our community to address congestion,” he said.

Nina Engelbrecht-Malherbe, Senior Specialist Cargo at Airports Company South Africa, noted that airports served as a point of regional integration for people and products to connect to the globe. “Airports play an important role in underpinning the economy, getting products to markets, and bringing in essential supplies. We need to be agile, work together with industry stakeholders, understand customers and demands, and link them to the routes they need. We need to work together to help get people back to work.  We need to come together as a community to do the best we can; but it is also important that the authorities keep citizens safe without restricting growth and development.”

 “It is an unprecedented situation, which demands innovation and cooperation,” said Suzette Scheepers, CEO of Messe Muenchen South Africa. “Fortunately, as we have seen at air cargo Africa shows, this sector is one that can be agile and cooperative, so we are optimistic stakeholders will be able to work together to get imports and exports back on track and support the timeous distribution of medical supplies and humanitarian aid.”

Air Cargo Africa, presented by Messe Muenchen South Africa, will be staged at the Sandton Convention Centre from February 9 – 11, 2021. Delivering new business opportunities, global perspectives, and strong networking platforms, the air cargo Africa 2021 exhibition and conference will engage the global air cargo community to explore and strengthen networking corridors with the African Continent. air cargo Africa is part of Messe München’s transport and logistics global cluster of trade fairs that present optimal solutions in the sector. For more information, and to reserve exhibition space at air Cargo Africa 2021, go to

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