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Cargo airlines cancel flights as Shanghai enforces COVID lockdown

Lack of airport trucking, people to load shipments creates airfreight backlog

The staggered lockdown of Shanghai to contain the biggest wave of COVID-19 since the early days of the pandemic is quickly crimping the movement of air cargo.

City officials shut down the eastern half of the city on Monday through Friday and told people on the western side to quarantine at home or compounds from Friday to April 5 while they conduct mass testing. With no public transport and people stuck at home, manpower shortages are hindering manufacturing and logistics activity. Many factories and warehouses have closed, getting goods to and from local airports is difficult because few trucks are available and airports have limited staff to handle cargo, according to logistics companies operating in China.

Both Shanghai Pudong airport and Shanghai Hongqiao city airport are running, but with very limited capacity and mostly for passenger flights, Christos Spyrou, CEO and founder of Neutral Air Partner, a Hong Kong-based co-operative of airfreight agents, said via email. 

During the lockdown, motor carriers can’t use the roads to Shanghai Pudong airport, the main cargo hub. Once the lockdowns are lifted, trucks without a certificate of a negative COVID test within 48 hours won’t be allowed to cross the border between provinces, which potentially could extend the capacity crunch, he said.

Logistics providers say they are trying to gauge what air cargo activity is possible during the lockdown, but freight forwarder Dimerco said in a customer notice that some all-cargo carriers such as Cargolux have already canceled flights to Shanghai. 

Spryou said Air China has also canceled several freighter flights to Los Angeles between Wednesday and next Tuesday, as well as three upcoming flights to Chicago. 

C.H. Robinson said in a service update that customs processing will also be slower as Chinese authorities are only accepting electronic declarations and not conducting other services such as cargo inspections.

The COVID measures come as the air cargo sector was coping with the loss of shipping capacity and escalating fuel prices due to the Russia-Ukraine war. Western sanctions knocked Russian cargo airlines out of the market and Russia blocked its airspace to overflights, lengthening routes between Europe and Asia. Pandemic restrictions by Hong Kong authorities have also severely hampered the freighter operations of Cathay Pacific, a major cargo carrier. The loss of transport supply combined with higher operating costs have driven up cargo rates in the past month.

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.

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Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government coverage and news analysis, and was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at ekulisch@freightwaves.com