Boom in chartered flights for face masks, protective items amid pandemic

28, Apr. 2020

HONG KONG, NNA – In the mad scramble for face masks and other protective items as the coronavirus pandemic spread throughout the world, buyers are also facing a big obstacle as most flights have been grounded by country lockdowns on air travel.

The dire need for huge quantities of face masks and respirators mainly from China has forced governments, hospitals, distributors and private companies to do all they could to have them shipped as soon as possible.

But for those who really need them urgently in the face of a looming emergency, chartering a flight is the best but costly solution.

In fact, the demand for air charter to carry face masks, hand sanitizers protective clothing and gloves has seen an upsurge since February, according to Air Charter Service Ltd. whose 27 global offices have been kept busy.

(Photo courtesy of Air Charter Service)
(Photo courtesy of Air Charter Service)

Collectively, their chartered flights have freighted a mind-boggling total of 10,000 tons of the items, the bulk of which were more than two billion pieces of face masks especially in the more recent flights, said the company.

Almost 8,500 tons were flown out from China, said Stephen Fernandez, its Asia Pacific regional director, in a press release.

The British global aircraft charter broker has booked more than 250 flights for clients for this purpose since February, Rita Poon, marketing manager of Air Charter Service (HK) Ltd., told NNA in an email on Tuesday.

More than 70 percent of its chartered flights depart from the Asia Pacific region, said Fernandez. They have flown to more than 50 countries and regions including South Korea, Malaysia, Fiji, Australia and New Zealand, Poon added.

However, the lack of aircrafts and cargo capacity have driven up charter rates. The normal rates of February had been doubled in March and then surged to multiples above that for most routes in the first week of April, Poon told NNA.

To compound the problem for clients, aircraft availability can change every hour and ordered goods have to be rushed to airport warehouses in China at least four to five days in advance to ensure that they obtain a storage spot, go through checks and be uploaded smoothly onto a plain before a scheduled take-off.

Highlighting the massive congestion seen at Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing airports caused by long queues of lorries waiting to go through customs and load goods, Poon advised clients to book way in advance.

Its offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong have had to ensure smooth operations at airports and advise the company on the latest airport situations and requirements.

Said the company in its press release, "There are currently three days’ worth of trucks queuing at Shanghai Airport, for example. But we knew that it was building up long before it made the local news and had planned our charters from there accordingly."

Established in Britain in 1990, the aircraft charter service firm helps clients procure aircrafts for cargo delivery. It arranges more than 23,000 charter flights annually, covering heavy and oversized cargo, animal transportation, dangerous goods and emergency situations.

On its participation in the current transportation of protective items in the battle against coronavirus pandemic, Poon said, "We have been involved in many humanity and relief flights for both cargo for humanity materials and passenger evacuations in the past years. That’s why we have competitive advantages over others in the industry."