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Air cargo recovery in India driven by perishables, pharma and e-commerce

MUMBAI International Airport (MIAL) handled 72,000 tonnes of general cargo between April and August, a staggering 278 per cent increase over the same period last year, indicating that India's air cargo market is gathering steam, with exports leading the recovery, post-lockdown

27 September 2020 - 19:00

MUMBAI International Airport (MIAL) handled 72,000 tonnes of general cargo between April and August, a staggering 278 per cent increase over the same period last year, indicating that India's air cargo market is gathering steam, with exports leading the recovery, post-lockdown.

SpiceXpress, the cargo arm of low-cost carrier Spicejet, has also seen a big uptick in cargo volumes and revenue through the lockdown, when the focus switched to freight as passenger travel became almost non-existent.



In its first quarter results to June, the carrier claimed it had emerged as 'India's largest cargo airline', with cargo revenue up 144 per cent over the period, carrying 50,000 tonnes on 7,000 flights, of which 40 per cent were international.



SpiceXpress operates a fleet of 13 cargo aircraft, and in August launched long-haul widebody cargo operations on two Airbus 340s to Europe, central Asia and Africa.



Ajay Singh, Spicejet chairman and managing director, said the long-haul flights were a 'huge game-changer'.



'We are confident that our long-haul cargo flights would further help boost Indian businesses, farmers, and pharma companies - providing them with seamless access to newer markets.'



Karthi Baskar, deputy managing director at Kintetsu World Express (India), said the air cargo recovery has been mostly driven by a strong export market, 'mainly due to pharmaceuticals, perishables and e-commerce'.



He told The Loadstar, UK: 'All major airports are showing a positive trend in terms of exports, but import demand is still slow due to the China-India political row, limited capacity and the 'Make in India' initiative gaining strength.'



Airfreight capacity is still tight, he explained, as scheduled passenger flights were yet to resume, except for 13 'bubble flights' where India has agreed to jointly open borders with partner countries.



'Most of the airlines are still operating cargo charters and passenger-converted charters, with roughly only 50 per cent capacity available, compared with pre-Covid times,' Mr Baskar noted.



As a result, he said, freight rates were still two-to-three times higher than usual, depending on the tradelane.



Given India's status as a major pharmaceutical manufacturer, Mr Baskar predicted a strong end to the year. 'The world is waiting for Covid vaccines, and India accounts for around 50 per cent of the global vaccine manufacturing market. Therefore, we expect a huge surge in the airfreight market late in the year.'


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