The International Air Transport Association (Iata) warned of an "immediate and severe" shortage in global air cargo capacity due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Global air cargo demand fell 15.2 per cent in March, compared to the same month last year, while capacity shrank by nearly a quarter, Iata said in a statement on Wednesday. The coronavirus crisis has idled passenger planes, leading to a nearly 44 per cent cut in the belly hold capacity that carried air cargo.
"At present, we don’t have enough capacity to meet the remaining demand for air cargo," Alexandre de Juniac, Iata's director general, said. "The gap must be addressed quickly because vital supplies must get to where they are needed most."
Airlines have been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis. The pandemic has decimated air travel demand, leading to suspension of passenger flights, grounding more than half the world's fleet and is set to plunge the global economy into its deepest recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The air cargo capacity shortage was only partially offset by a 6.2 per cent increase in capacity through expanded use of freighters, including the use of idle passenger aircraft for all-cargo operations, Iata said.
"With most of the passenger fleet sitting idle, airlines are doing their best to meet demand by adding freighter services, including adapting passenger aircraft to all-cargo activity," Mr de Juniac said. "But mounting these special operations continues to face bureaucratic hurdles."
Iata called on governments to cut the red tape needed to approve special flights and ensure safe and efficient facilitation of crew.
Problems include delays in getting charter permits issued, a lack of exemptions on Covid-19 testing for air cargo crew, and inadequate ground infrastructure to/from and within airports.
Iata urged government to cut the paperwork for charter operations, exempt cargo crew from quarantine rules that apply to the general population and ensure there is adequate staff and facilities to process cargo efficiently.
Looking ahead, the industry body said "while there is an immediate capacity shortage, the collapsing economy is expected to further depress overall cargo volumes."
Air cargo volumes could be impacted by the forecast fall in global trade this year between 13 per cent--in an optimistic scenario--to 31 per cent.
"The recession will likely hit air cargo at least as severely as it does the rest of the economy," Mr de Juniac said.
Iata's chief also called for a uniform set of measures to help the industry restart global air travel, which must also be economically feasible for airlines, once the coronavirus restrictions ease.
The association is working on these rules with the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the World Health Organisation and Airports Council International. Once agreed, Iata will submit the proposal to governments around the world.