Don’t (only) blame air freight woes on the Suez Canal

The precipitous drop in the number of passenger flights operated during the pandemic has yet to return to levels that will meet both the ongoing demand for air freight and the increased demand because of port congestion, rail delays, trucking woes, and sky-high ocean freight rates.

For companies needing cargo shipped out of southern China or transshipped via Hong Kong, Hong Kong airport is one of the two major jumping-off points for the region besides Shenzhen.


Two Carriers

FedEx and Cathay Pacific – have been laboring under an onerous quarantine requirement imposed by the Hong Kong government which has been hampering their ability to operate schedules to meet the demand for their cargo services.

FedEx took the step of relocating crews that were located in Hong Kong to San Francisco to avoid having to deal with the restrictions imposed upon domiciled crews. For Cathay, they were not as lucky to be able to take this step but instead worked with Anchorage airport and the US government to establish separate crew quarters in Alaska for pilots who were changing planes between the continental United States and Hong Kong.

Cathay Pacific took the brunt of the hit – canceling dozens of freighter (and passenger) flights, adding to already steep pandemic-related losses.

Fortunately, news broke that the Hong Kong government has changed their policy and will now allow for fully vaccinated flight deck and cabin crew members to no longer be subject to the quarantine restrictions. Cathay immediately announced plans to revisit their May schedule with an eye to increasing flights.


Bill McDermott, one of Mach 1 Global’s charter and air freight specialists, is relieved.

“At the height of the backlogs in Los Angeles in February, there were dozens of ships at anchor. People were looking for every which way to get cargo into the hands of their customers because of these delays.”

“The fact we already were operating on a fraction of the belly space and freighters that went from being committed to PPE to being committed to vaccines and then having to start flying stopgap cargo that was trapped in containers really hit people between the eyes and in their pocketbooks. Hard.”

Fortunately, McDermott says, Mach 1 was challenged, but never shut out.

“‘I’ve been in air freight a long time, first in Boston and now out on the West Coast. Mach 1’s relationships have carried the day and we’ve been able to make those calls and protect that space where and when we’ve needed it.”


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