The same cargo congestion issues that have paralyzed big airports in the U.S., China and Europe during the pandemic have materialized in Australia.
On Wednesday dnata, the airport operations division of the Emirates Group, warned it is experiencing delays processing import cargo at Sydney Airport because of an unplanned spike in volume from additional freighter services and passenger planes operating in cargo mode. The passenger aircraft include large shipments of medical supplies and personal protection equipment loaded in the passenger cabin to increase the carrying capacity.
Dnata, which stands for Dubai National Air Transport Association, said in a notice posted to its local website that it is taking steps to return processing and transfer times to normal. Corrective actions include:
- Releasing small containers intact if the contents are for a single consignee
- Adding extra staff to speed up deliveries
- Obtaining additional wooden pallets
- Increasing truck shuttles between Terminals 1 and 2
- Accepting some cargo at Terminal 1 to ease congestion at Terminal 2.
“We are currently making good progress in clearing the backlog with our focus on processing cargo in order of arrival. We anticipate having this backlog cleared and normal operation restored by the morning of Friday 14th August,” the statement said. “Thank you for your patience, understanding and support.”
Passenger airlines are operating cargo-only flights in many variations: with containers in the lower cargo hold only; with lower hold-cargo plus cargo in the seats and overhead storage bins; and with lower-hold cargo and cargo stacked on the cabin floor when the seats have been removed. The dedicated cargo flights help airlines earn revenue with passenger traffic at a standstill because of COVID-19 concerns and partially alleviate the resulting supply shortage of air transport for shippers.
Ground handlers at many airports are being overwhelmed because they aren’t equipped to handle such a high tempo of full freighters. The warehouse operators typically handle lots of cargo in small increments that come off regularly scheduled passenger aircraft. Freighters deliver much larger quantities at once. Modified passenger freighters take much longer to load and unload if there is cargo in the cabin because boxes have to be manually maneuvered through narrow doors and individually secured.
Cathay Pacific, a large airline based in Hong Kong, recently began flying a couple aircraft to Australia with seats removed.The airline said it takes at least three hours to load the cabin. By contrast, loading and unloading pallets in the lower deck of widebody aircraft can take 15 to 20 minutes, industry experts say.