Europe-US air cargo volumes surge ahead of transatlantic passenger flight cancellations


The Trump administration’s air travel ban on Europe-US routes is likely to result in a sizeable reduction of transatlantic passenger services rather than a total shutdown as was initially feared, but the impact on bellycargo will nevertheless be significant and lead to a rise in the need for freighters, a senior air cargo executive has told Lloyd’s Loading List.

“There are still quite a few passenger flights between Europe’s Schengen area and the US, mainly to get citizens back to their countries but also for people transferring via European gateways to other regions. These will dry up in the next few days, but it looks like most major airlines will continue to operate a few daily transatlantic pax flights,” explained Jason Breakwell, commercial director at road haulier Wallenborn Transports, whose core business is in the European air cargo road feeder services (RFS) segment.

The ban has been extended to include the UK and Ireland from today.

Breakwell took the example of United Airlines, which has said it will continue to fly its regular schedule from Europe to the US until 20 March, except Houston-London and Denver-London, which it is suspending after 16 March. From 20 March to the end of April, it expects to fly three daily flights to London and have daily service to Amsterdam, Brussels, Dublin, Paris and Zurich, for example, and will also maintain multiple flights to Frankfurt and Munich, along with four flights a week to Lisbon.

Breakwell said that since last Thursday, following news of the ban, there had been an increase in Europe-US air cargo, “especially for ‘must fly’ shipments such as time- and temperature sensitive pharmaceuticals”.

He continued: “It looks like United will fly much more than American Airlines and Delta Air Lines across the Atlantic this week. We’ll probably see all airlines wind down most of their transatlantic pax flights during this week, leaving perhaps 10% of the normal schedule by next week.

“Air crew are exempt from US entry restriction, so freighters can continue to fly across the Atlantic; but there will be streamlining of operations – i.e. operators will focus on a small number of US hubs and make more use of RFS within North America.”

Dearth of belly space

The dearth of cargo belly space means that the market is turning to maindeck capacity as an alternative solution.

“We are talking with freighter operators to understand how they will tackle this challenge,” said Breakwell. “The situation should become clearer soon. For now, demand for RFS is very high and there are no restrictions on truck movements in Europe.”

The closure of the EU’s borders and the Schengen area for 30 days starting today, due to the coronavirus outbreak, will have no impact on Wallenborn’s RFS operations, Breakwell underlined. “Not much RFS crosses EU borders and UK movements are not affected  (by the move).”