Modal Update April 2020-Air and Rail

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In the Airfreight Sector this April:

  • The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration gave airlines the green light to carry cargo in the passenger cabin to maximize efficiency and relaxing takeoff and landing quotas at congested airports. The agency issued guidelines in April for commercial carriers to follow if they transport cargo in stowage bins, passenger seats or on the floor, with the seats removed. The safety alert told carriers they could carry shipments up top as long as they adhered to all regulatory requirements for the safe carriage of cargo. Passenger cabins are not designed for all-cargo configurations, but the rules allow goods to be carried there if all normal requirements for the safe carriage of cargo are followed. The FAA also recommended that one or more crew members travel in the cabin with the cargo to respond to any potential fire, since fire suppression systems are not present as they are in the cargo hold of modern widebody aircraft. Passenger cabins only have fire extinguishers.
  • IATA webinar provides update on “Keeping Cargo Flying”

IATA held a webinar April 28 on Keeping Air Cargo Flying, moderated by David Brennan, Assistant Director, Cargo Safety & Standards. Safety remains the highest priority for aviation, and one of the key planks to safety is training. Many countries have issued exemptions or extensions to the validity of dangerous goods training. Companies should still make sure staff are keeping up with what they need to do. Reporting and investigation processes need to be kept going, especially in light of incidences such as increases in undeclared dangerous goods (i.e. alcohol-based hand sanitizer)

Glyn Hughes – IATA’s Global Head of Cargo, this year, revenues will decline 55%, or $314 billion. Some 4.5 million flights have been cancelled, resulting in 45% of belly hold space being removed. Brennan said that a number of states are exploring the next phase of a mixed cabin environment. Movement to cargo only flights must be in a controlled environment. Guidelines are being developed on how to move cargo in these configured aircrafts. Absolutely no dangerous goods will be transported in the cabin. All dangerous goods must be placed in the belly hold. A robust safety risk assessment must be done for cargo in the cabin without passengers and also in a combi situation.

Gordon Wright, IATA Head, Cargo Border Management, said IATA has worked to reduce aircraft landing and parking fees. Financial measures are being put in place by governments to support the airline industry. IATA is also advocating for cargo flights to be exempt from state transport and cargo crew restrictions and is seeking WCO Guidance on Medical Devices classification. Other speakers on the webinar included Andrea Gruber – IATA Head, Special Cargo, Ariaen Zimmerman- IATA Executive Director, Cargo IQ, and Henk Mulder – IATA Head, Digital Cargo.

  • In today’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic, private-sector aircraft of all types are being repurposed, converted and enlisted like never before because the need for humanitarian aid and speed is so high. The most dramatic trend in the past two months has been the use of passenger aircraft exclusively to move cargo, first as on-demand charters and then on regular, scheduled routes. There is a lot of wasted space when a passenger plane flies without passengers, but the aircraft are desperately needed because passenger networks, which carried about 50% of the world’s air cargo, have virtually shut down across much of the world due to stay-at-home orders and travel bans. Airlines have started to put cargo in the passenger cabin, including on seats, and are beginning to remove seats from aircraft to make way for more cargo. Air Canada, which was one of the first to retrofit passenger planes to carry more cargo, has started special cargo flights with a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner four times per week between Toronto and Los Angeles. It has also added cargo-only flights to Amsterdam; Copenhagen, Denmark; Frankfurt, Germany (three extra above existing weekly schedule); Mexico City; and Tel Aviv.

IATA’s Air Cargo Market Analysis for March 2020 was released April 28, 2020

  • Industry-wide cargo tonne kilometres (CTKs) contracted by 15.2% year-on-year in March, driven by sharply weaker demand across all regions as the COVID-19 outbreak extended to become a global pandemic.
  • Industry-wide cargo capacity declined by 22.7% annually due to the reduction in bellyhold capacity, as the passenger fleet were increasingly grounded. Dedicated freighter operations raised their capacity and some passenger aircraft shifted to cargo-only operations which partly offset this decline. With capacity contracting by more than demand, the global cargo load factor improved by 4.8 ppts in March, compared with the same period a year ago.
  • International CTKs in all regions, except for Africa, posted double-digit declines.

Intense demand for medical equipment to fight the coronavirus is continuing to send the cost of chartered flights skyrocketing.

  • Bloomberg News reported in March that a typically humdrum process of hiring a plane had turned into an “absolutely crazy,” ultra-competitive auction. Since then, conditions have become even more intense. An article from the American Journal of Transportation reported that the going market rate for charters was a multiple of at least two to three times their regular price and can be four or five times higher for extremely high-demand destinations.

In the Rail Sector this April:

Railways confronting a tough year ahead as volumes drop amid looming recession

  • North American rail volume for the week ending April 25, 2020, on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 279,228 carloads, down 26.1 percent compared with the same week last year, and 305,522 intermodal units, down 13.9 percent compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 584,750 carloads and intermodal units, down 20.2 percent. North American rail volume for the first 17 weeks of 2020 was 10,821,127 carloads and intermodal units, down 9.2 percent compared with 2019.
  • Canadian railroads reported 71,689 carloads for the week, down 19.7 percent, and 69,898 intermodal units, down 2.4 percent compared with the same week in 2019. For the first 17 weeks of 2020, Canadian railroads reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 2,394,855 carloads, containers and trailers, down 5.2 percent.
  • Automotive shipments and container traffic have been hit particularly hard after North American and Asian production hubs went into lockdown due to the virus.
  • Year over year, auto and container volumes decreased by more than 15 and 12 per cent respectively in March, with container traffic seeing its steepest plunge since 2009.

On April 3, the Minister of Transport, the Honourable Marc Garneau, announced measures to improve rail safety in Canada and reduce train derailments through three different Ministerial Orders directed to railway companies.

The new Ministerial Order requires speed restrictions for key trains and higher-risk key trains:

  • Key trains have one or more loaded tank cars of dangerous goods that are toxic by inhalation; or contain 20 or more tank cars containing dangerous goods.
  • Higher-risk key trains carry crude oil or liquefied petroleum gases in a continuous block of 20 or more tank cars or 35 or more tank cars dispersed throughout the train.
  • Following measures first put in place on February 16, 2020, in response to the derailments of trains carrying crude oil that occurred earlier this winter, the first Ministerial Order requires railway companies to maintain lower speeds in metropolitan areas for trains carrying large quantities of crude oil and liquefied petroleum gas i.e. higher risk key trains with further mandatory speed reductions everywhere during the winter months (from November 15 to March 15).
  • In addition to the speed restrictions, this Order also directs companies to address the management of their track maintenance and inspection.
  • The second and third Ministerial Orders were issued to direct railway companies to update the current industry rules governing track safety, and the movement of dangerous goods in Canada. These Orders will ensure these measures to reduce train speeds and improve maintenance and inspection practices become a permanent part of safer railway operations in Canada.
  • The three new Ministerial Orders remain in place until permanent rule changes are approved.