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The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA have called on governments throughout the world to end air cargo bottlenecks, open up supply chains and keep medical supplies moving to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both parties called for fast track procedures to be introduced, among a series of measures, to ensure that medical PPE reached healthcare workers around the world.

Earlier this month the WHO had warned that severe and mounting disruption to the global supply of PPE – caused by rising demand, panic buying, hoarding and misuse – was putting lives at risk from coronavirus – and the world needed secure supply chains to reduce the risk to healthcare workers.

Heathrow Airport, cargo terminal, CargoLogicAir Boeing 747-83Q(F) on stand, 03 November 2016.

Alexandre de Juniac, director general and chief executive at the IATA, said: “Air cargo is a vital partner in the global fight against COVID-19. But we are still seeing examples of cargo flights filled with life-saving medical supplies and equipment grounded due to cumbersome and bureaucratic processes to secure slots and operating permits.

“These delays are endangering lives. All governments need to step up to keep global supply chains open.”

The IATA said that the COVID-19 pandemic had seen almost the entire world-wide passenger aircraft fleet grounded; which it said is a fleet which normally transports almost half of total air cargo shipments.

It said that airlines are scrambling to meet the gap between cargo demand and available lift by all means possible, including re-introducing freighter services and using passenger aircraft for cargo operations.

The IATA said that to support these efforts, governments need to remove key obstacles by:

  • Introducing fast track procedures for overflight and landing permits for cargo operations, particularly in key manufacturing hubs in Asia — China, South Korea and Japan — in response to the increased number of cargo charters replacing withdrawn passenger operations.
  • Exempting flight crew members who do not interact with the public from 14-day quarantine requirements to ensure cargo supply chains are maintained.
  • Supporting temporary traffic rights for cargo operations where restrictions may apply.
  • Removing economic impediments, such as overflight charges, parking fees, and slot restrictions to support air cargo operations during the pandemic.
  • Removing operating hour curfews for cargo flights to facilitate the most flexible global air cargo network operations.

Paul Molinaro, chief, operations support and logistics at the World Health Organisation, joined the IATA in its call to keep global supply chains moving: “Around the world the frontline health workers who fight against COVID- 19 need to be continuously supplied with necessary medical equipment and protective material.

“It is our collective duty to keep these supply lines open by continuing air cargo operations.

“The scale-down of air passenger flow is seriously hurting our scheduled freight operations. We call on airline companies and governments to join the global effort to ensure dedicated freight capacity continues to operate on previously high volume passenger routes that are now closed down.”