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Whether it is artefacts, hi-tech electronics, racehorses, one-day old chicks, livestock or zoo transport, there is a considerable amount of pre-planning that needs to go into each project. As the pandemic forced airlines to cut capacity and trim routes, it presents a real challenge for stakeholders dealing in precious cargo. But the aviation industry is looking forward to adding additional capacities in Q4, thus giving a push to valuable shipments, which will also be contributed by Covid-19 vaccines. 

Imagine a human organ/remains, live animals, artefacts or jewellery in transit in the belly of the aircraft you are travelling. Rarely do you think about what is in the cargo hold below. 

As the current pandemic forced airlines to cut capacity and trim routes, it presents a real challenge for stakeholders dealing in precious cargo. The carriage of human remains is bound by strict regulations even during normal times. During the pandemic, certain countries are requesting for a Covid-19 free certificate in addition to the other required documents required for uplift. Julius Mooney, commercial development manager- specialty products, Emirates SkyCargo says, “Given that the available air cargo capacity has been reduced because of limited international passenger flights and that many national carriers who may have normally repatriated human remains are not currently operating commercial flights, we have seen a steady rate of requests coming in over the last few months for the transportation of human remains. The change we have observed over the last few months is that in the past, we often used to see members of the family of the deceased travelling on the same flight as the remains. However, with travel restrictions in place, this is no longer happening. This means that our team has to coordinate with the families to ensure that the remains are delivered without delay at the destination.”

“We have seen a steady rate of requests coming in over the last few months for the transportation of human remains.”
Julius Mooney, Emirates SkyCargo

Emirates SkyCargo offers two product packages for the transportation of valuable cargo - Emirates Safe VAL and VUN. However, one of the areas the airline is involved includes new safe boxes for the transportation of small quantities of valuable cargo. Erin Jeffers, senior manager, products, partnerships and business planning for American Airlines Cargo, states, “Critical PPS and human remains shipments are carefully situated in cargo bins before being loaded in the belly of the aircraft. MEDEVAC shipments are also transported as cargo unless they are accompanied by an escort, in which case the item is treated as carry-on baggage.” Throughout the pandemic, the carrier has handled TLC shipments (human remains and cremains), Critical PPS (cord blood, corneas, and organs for non-transplant) and MEDEVAC shipments (life-saving medical emergency and organ shipments).

“MEDEVAC shipments are transported as cargo unless they are accompanied by an escort, in which case the item is treated as carry-on baggage.”
Erin Jeffers, American Airlines Cargo

A spokesperson from United Cargo observes, “United Cargo's specialised service TrustUA is designed for the compassionate transportation of human remains shipments. We resumed TrustUA shipments on all United flights in September. As always, TrustUA shipments receive the highest priority, special handling and proactive monitoring at every point of transit in the journey." In March, United Cargo implemented cargo-only flight programme and since then it has operated over 6,700 flights, moving nearly 230 million lbs of cargo on those flights alone. In cooperation with its partners all over the world, United has helped transport over 157 million pounds of medical supplies to aid in the fight against Covid-19, using a combination of cargo-only and passenger flights. However, it cannot be ruled out that one of the precious cargoes soon will be Covid-19 vaccines.

Obviously, like others, the major focus this year for Air Partner, a global aviation services group providing aircraft charter and aviation safety & security solutions to industry, has been the supply of Covid-19 related essentials – medical supplies and test kits amongst them, as well as PPE and other hygiene products with the majority being transported from the Far East to Europe and the US.   

Photo: United Airlines

“We managed and delivered hundreds of PPE charter shipments worldwide. As a broker means we have 24/7 access to any size of aircraft, we also made use of passenger aircraft that had been converted into freighters. Going forward, as governments around the world fast-track plans for Covid-19 vaccine distribution, we are fully prepared to aid in the quick and efficient delivery of these critical supplies around the world. While some vaccines and related materials will be transported by land or air it will be vital in reaching international locations without local manufacturing capabilities, and we are ready to assist in that,” Mike Hill, director group freight and vice president Asia Pacific, Air Partner.

AA Cargo accepts shipments valued up to $500,000 or live animals valued up to $1,500. Shipments and animals valued higher than these require additional consideration to determine if they can be accommodated. 

Mooney notes, “From an insurance perspective, shippers and agents typically take out their insurance to cover international air movements. However, as per Montreal Convention if no value is declared on the AWB and a claim is filed the maximum value of liability will be SDR (special drawing rights) 22 per kg (approx $30/ kg). If there is a declared value for carriage captured on the AWB an approx 0.75 percent of this amount will be captured as an insurance premium. As Emirates, our liability is limited (if the value is declared) to a maximum of $100,000 per AWB or $500,000 per aircraft, which may not cover the value of the shipment and hence agents and shippers almost always take out a separate insurance policy.”

Commenting on similar lines, Andreas Pauker, head of communications, Lufthansa Cargo, mentions, “Basically, our liability for air freight only applies from airport to airport. With additional transport insurance, shipments can also be insured on the way to the airport and from the airport to the recipient. Together with our partner Delvag, we offer protection specifically tailored for air freight risks.”

Whether it is artefacts, hi-tech electronics, racehorses, one-day old chicks, livestock or zoo transport, there is a considerable amount of pre-planning that needs to go into each project. 

Photo: American Airlines

Hill notes, “In our 60 years history, we have arranged the transportation of some of the world’s most cherished works of art or historical artefacts. In recent years, we had Vermeer’s ‘Lady with the glass’ in our care from Germany to Rome for an exhibition and back again, we have arranged the transportation of national historical treasures from Morocco to Musee d’Orsay in Paris and we have had a B777F packed full of artefacts to and from Romania to China.”

Air partner has created RED-TRACK, an in-house tracking system back in 2012. The system ensures total visibility of every shipment's journey providing real-time tracking and delivery updates so clients can keep an eye on their shipments from door-to-door. It also enables clients to book online and receive all information on their shipments via a single portal, whether it is a charter, onboard courier, urgent air freight or ground transport. 

Mooney says, “From an electronics perspective, with our special product Emirates Safe VUN, we have had a very busy year to date, with various launches of new games consoles, mobile phones and other devices – which require an additional layer of security to ensure shipments are not tampered with at origin, during transit or destination. We have a dedicated security team who monitor and inspect all such shipments. This is something our customers are very appreciative of, as we are proactive in terms of monitoring for deviations and can quickly identify where the problem occurred.”

As there will be increased demand for carriers who have the right medical/pharmaceutical shipping capabilities, United has assembled a Covid-19 Readiness Task Team to ensure there are right people in place to prepare stations for the industry-wide effort that comes next. The airline is prepared to meet demands for Covid-19 related cargo as well as the anticipated Q4 load and add additional cargo-only flights as the demand increases. 

Meanwhile, Emirates SkyCargo is gearing up to handle the logistical complexities of distributing a potential Covid-19 vaccine globally by creating the world’s first dedicated airside cargo hub. The air cargo carrier will be re-opening Emirates SkyCentral DWC, which consists of 4,000 square metres of temperature-controlled GDP-certified dedicated pharma storage area in Dubai South. 

The next precious cargo on board will be Covid-19 vaccines!

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