Air cargo networks in turmoil as international flights cancelled

Air cargo networks in turmoil as international flights cancelled

Qantas and Virgin Australia's decision to cut international passenger flights will have a tremendous impact on Australia's air freight industry according to a coalition of independent global business associations.

While closing borders to international travellers and slashing flights en masse is expected to slow the spread of Covid-19 in Australia, the Global Business Coalition (GBC) says the global air freight sector will struggle to keep up with time-critical deliveries that rely on passenger flights.

Specifically the GBC says the deliveries of life-saving medical supplies, urgent repair components, and essential inputs into global supply chains will struggle to reach their destinations in a safe and timely manner as a result.

"Almost all of our airfreight space is under the feet of passengers. No passenger planes equals no freight space for often time-critical supplies," says chief executive of GBC member organisation Ai Group Innes Willox.

"Ai Group has joined with our international counterparts to call for Governments and companies to prioritize all available space for crucial medicines, medical equipment and supplies including vitally needed safety products such as gloves, masks and HAZMAT gear."

Willox says governments must take a pragmatic approach to not only air freight but cargo ships too.

GBC's plea follows heavy criticism against Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ) from the peak shipping industry body Shipping Australia about the regulator's declaration that cargo ships cannot dock in Queensland for 14 days after leaving an international port outside of Australia.

Shipping Australia said the declaration will lead to shortages of goods for Queenslanders and could cut off vital trade routes. 

This morning the Queensland Minister for Transport and Main Roads Mark Bailey hit back at Shipping Australia, saying MSQ's decision prioritises the safety of Australians.

"Given the health threat our nation is facing, this is a tough but necessary policy and meets the community's expectations to tighten border control to contain COVID-19 to minimise the threat to our sea based trade from this virus," says Bailey.

"It reduces the potential for international seafarers who may be sick or carrying the virus to come into contact with local maritime workers while they may be contagious.

"Losing highly skilled marine pilots to infection, particularly at regional ports could have a catastrophic effect on trade at those ports over many months. The Australian economy can't afford that."

Despite the restrictions Bailey says cargo continues to move through Queensland ports efficiently and that bulk exports have been largely unaffected. 

"MSQ has promptly processed a number of exemptions to the measures where special circumstances can be demonstrated. Notably, where there is a need to maintain critical supply lines, for countries including New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific islands, and where risk is sufficiently managed, in line with Federal Health directives," says Bailey.

"Almost 2200 ships entered Queensland ports between 31 January, when MSQ first enacted restrictions from China then South Korea, and 18 March.

"To date, no cases of COVID-19 have been identified at our Queensland ports or affecting port workforces."

Updated at 4:21pm AEDT on 20 March 2020.

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