EMIRATES SkyCargo has entered the new year with an added string to its airfreight bow: passenger-to-freighter (p2f) aircraft conversions.

Along with taking delivery of two new B777 freighters in 2022, the Middle East heavy weight airline, together with Israel’s aircraft engineering specialist Aerospace Industries (IAI) Aviation Group, intends to secure a greater access to future capacity by converting four of its B777-300ER passenger aircraft into freighters over the next few years.

This strategic decision is in response to the continuing paucity of passenger belly-hold capacity amidst the global pandemic, and is one of many big decisions the carrier enacted last year, writes Thelma Etim.

 In tandem with augmenting its capacity, the carrier has also ensured freight forwarders can now easily directly access it – along with real-time flight schedules availability and prices – utilising software company WiseTech’s flagship CargoWise e-bookings logistics platform, thereby removing unnecessary confusion and inefficiencies in the traditional booking process.

By March, the airline had marked one year of utilising its B777 passenger aircraft to conduct 27,800 cargo-only flights for uplift of personal protective equipment (PPE), food, medicines, electronics, raw materials for manufacturing and many other vital commodities. As a result, SkyCargo ended 2021 having operated more than 20,000 passenger aircraft cargo-only flights, a statement reveals.

As with many other major air cargo players, Emirates has prioritised the transportation of humanitarian aid. Together with Dubai Airports, DP World and Dubai-based non-profit organisation (NGO) International Humanitarian City, it created the Dubai Vaccines Logistics Alliance (DVLA) initiative, a cold-chain collaboration to distribute COVID-19 vaccines by air, land and sea around the globe.

SkyCargo is also among the 16 airlines that signed the UNICEF Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative in the distribution of COVAX vaccines – a global effort co-led by the World Health Organisation (WHO) which is aimed at providing equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Under that initiative all contributors agreed to add freight capacity to routes where needed, whilst continuing to safeguard the efficacy of the life-saving medicines in time- and temperature-sensitive secure environments on the ground.

At one point, in April 2021, one in every 20 COVID-19 vaccines administered around the world had flown on an Emirates aircraft, the statement says. By December, the cargo carrier had transported a total of 600 million doses of the life-preserving medication.

The company also established a humanitarian airbridge between Dubai and India to transport urgent medical and relief supplies to support the Indian community fighting a more transmissive Delta variant of Coronavirus. The air cargo carrier also supported partner organisations including International Humanitarian City and the WHO, by flying free-of-charge consignments of more than 100 tonnes within the first three weeks of the announcement of the airbridge, it says.

It comes as no surprise that the Dubai-based business continues to invest in its cool chain operations at its dedicated pharma facility at Dubai International Airport, including the expansion of its temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals and vaccine-handling capabilities. This included adding 94 cool-room pallet positions to its existing infrastructure, which already held Good Distribution Practice (GDP) certification – a quality system for warehouse and distribution centres dedicated to handling time- and temperature-sensitive shipments. The new extension is able to hold an estimated 60-90 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines at any one time and employs pharma cool dollies, insists the statement.

With the new variants of Coronavirus and natural disasters assaulting supply chains flows worldwide, the global exportation of industrial goods and consumer supplies has required the airfreight industry to be more instinctive, adaptive and innovative than ever before. For example, SkyCargo transported more than 4,500 tonnes of export cargo from Hanoi in Vietnam on 97 worldwide cargo flights – between six and seven flights in a single day – “flying a variety of commodities from PPE to electronics and from perishable commodities such as fruit and vegetables to clothing and high fashion,” notes the statement.

Last year, SkyCargo also transported a total of almost 600 tonnes of food on its daily frequencies to support communities reliant on agricultural exports for income, resulting in the carrier shipping more than 265,000 tonnes of perishables last year.

Given the carrier had reinstated its global network for cargo flights to more than 135 destinations across six continents in April – representing more than 85 per cent of its pre-pandemic global network – by the end of June, it had restored 90 per cent of its pre-COVID-19 network, the statement concludes.

Nabil Sultan, divisional senior vice-president of cargo at Emirates, underscores: “Without question this has been one of the most challenging years for our industry as the pandemic continues to create difficulties across the entire supply chain and across all modes of transportation.

“However, Emirates SkyCargo has been a first mover in ensuring that trade lanes remain open by reinstating flights and providing additional capacity on key trade routes across six continents. We remain committed to offering the highest levels of service to our customers with safety at the centre of everything we do,” he insists.

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