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The global coronavirus outbreak has rapidly changed the airfreight business. Import volumes at Frankfurt Airport (FRA) have risen sharply, while exports have stagnated. Transfer cargo has almost been eliminated. There has also been a noticeable shift in the shape and type of shipments towards small, loose packages. In tandem with its partners on-site, Frankfurt Airport has responded quickly to these changes, ensuring continued delivery of vital goods to Germany and Europe during the Corona crisis.
In particular, the majority of shipments handled during the past weeks comprised urgently-needed medical and pharmaceutical protective supplies. Due to the collapse in passenger traffic, nearly all passenger aircraft have been grounded – resulting in the loss of belly cargo capacity. This missing capacity can be partially compensated by using so called “Preighters” – passenger jets use for carrying only freight. Max Philipp Conrady, head of central cargo infrastructure at Fraport AG, the operator of Frankfurt Airport, stated: “Passenger planes being used as all freighters require labor-intensive manual loading and unloading of cargo. Smooth handling is maintained thanks to very close cooperation among all partners involved – both in the airside apron area and on the landside of Frankfurt Airport.”
Landside cargo handlers have also noticed the sudden changes in the airfreight business. Claus Wagner, managing director at FCS Frankfurt Cargo Services, stated: “During the past few weeks we have been handling more than 200 metric tons of medical supplies daily. In April, we handled some 730,000 packages labelled ‘protective masks’. Our warehouse facilities are operating at full capacity, and our staff are working nonstop.” Along with the composition of the freight, the inclusion of many new players in the supply chain is a further challenge. Wagner explained: “In addition to the established shipping companies, many individual recipients are currently collecting their goods from us directly. The processes are often unfamiliar, so increased coordination may be required.”
Fraport and FCS have successfully met these challenges by working closely with the other partners in the FRA cargo community. Joint solutions such as extra parking spaces, more staff, and intercompany assistance underscore the importance of Frankfurt Airport as a strategic global cargo hub. Fraport’s Conrady explained: “In recent years, our intensive commitment to building up a resilient cargo community at Frankfurt has paid off. All parties involved have communicated more effectively, and information has flowed more quickly. The crisis has drawn us even closer together as a community. Together, we are ensuring that air cargo is a vital and indispensible for delivering essential supplies to the people.”