How Air Cargo Became The World’s Lifeline


In the commercial aviation world, air cargo has not always been the focal point. And to those beyond the transport industry, when the topic of air travel comes to mind, cargo is often an afterthought (or not even a thought at all).

However, of late, we’ve seen an unprecedented increase in demand for air cargo. Since its first cargo-only passenger flight in March 2020, United Cargo has transported close to 260,000 tonnes of freight, including 51,000 tonnes of medical and pharmaceutical goods, and 4,500 tonnes of COVID-19 vaccines.


Throughout the pandemic, air cargo has been essential in transporting medical supplies, food items and most recently, vaccines. If it weren’t for air cargo, we probably would not have progressed this far in terms of global adaptability and recovery.

It doesn’t stop there: air cargo has not only saved lives. It is also thanks to air cargo that many airlines have managed to stay afloat. According to IATA’s Air Passenger Market Analysis, global revenue passenger-kilometres (RPKs) fell by 74.7% between February 2019 and February 2021. On the flip side, the Air Cargo Market Analysis reported that global cargo tonne-kilometres (CTKs) rose by 9% in the same time period.


While the growth in air cargo cannot possibly entirely offset the immense decline in passenger travel, there is still some solace found in the positive trend. For many airlines, cargo trips have replaced passenger routes.

It has become commonplace that passenger airliners are repurposed for cargo flights. In fact, Dviation had the pleasure of assisting in one such operation, in which essential cargo was loaded onto a passenger aircraft.

Source: Dviation Group

Four days after the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a pandemic, Emirates operated its first ever cargo-only flight on a passenger aircraft. Today, they have flown more than 27,800 cargo flights, transporting over 100,000 tonnes of freight.

Filling up cabin space with cargo – who would’ve expected this to happen? Just take a look at the article, ‘The Quick Ascent and Slow Decline of the “Combi” Plane’ from a few years ago, which points out why, in modern times, cargo belongs in the cargo hold. Yet, in the era of COVID-19, airlines need to think outside the box in order to adapt. Hence, ferrying cargo on passenger airliners became a viable solution, allowing airlines to survive the harsh realities of the pandemic-stricken aviation industry.

As worldwide vaccination efforts double down, we can expect a steady performance in air cargo demand. Perhaps air cargo will no longer be seen as a passenger airline’s secondary business, but rather, a core business – and indeed, a lifeline for all.

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