Red tape holding up medical supplies, airlines say

PARIS (Reuters) - Red tape is holding up medical and other emergency supplies needed to help tackle the coronavirus crisis, airlines warn.

FILE PHOTO: The International Air Transport Association (IATA) logo is seen at the International Tourism Trade Fair ITB in Berlin, Germany, March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo

While airlines around the world have grounded the bulk of their passenger fleets, demand for air freighters has hit record levels because the alternative option of using the cargo space inside passenger planes is no longer available.

About 45-50% of air cargo usually travels in the bellies of long-haul passenger planes.

But the rapid spread of airspace and travel restrictions to help contain the disease has in turn resulted in bottlenecks for cargo traffic, some of which involves medical and emergency supplies, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said.

Examples includes two shipments, each containing about five to 10 tonnes of medical supplies, bound for Latin America and currently held up in Dubai and India.

“Those are just two examples that have crossed my desk in the last 24 hours,” Glyn Hughes, global head of air cargo at IATA, told reporters.

The airline body, which represents most of the world’s large carriers, called earlier in the week for government action to ease cargo bottlenecks.

Somalia and Djibouti have already eased a total flight ban which had seen medical supplies being held up, Hughes said.

Faced with tumbling passenger revenues, many airlines including three major U.S. carriers have begun chartering out wide-bodied jets for use on cargo-only missions.

Figures to be published next week will show global air freight traffic fell around 10% in February, putting it on course for a 15-20% drop for the year as a whole, Hughes said.

Reporting by Tim Hepher; editing by Jason Neely and Mark Potter