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Winning during Covid-19: PPEs boost air cargo traffic

29 May 2020 - 15:15 By TimesLIVE
Personal protective equipment, medical devices and pharmaceuticals account for most of the increase in cargo volume at Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport.
Personal protective equipment, medical devices and pharmaceuticals account for most of the increase in cargo volume at Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport.
Image: ACSA

Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport (Ortia) facilitated 1,400 landing and departing cargo flights from a day before lockdown in March up to May 22, an increase of 62% over the comparable period in 2019.

SA's hard lockdown started on March 27, with the country since having eased to level 4 and level 3 set to kick in from June 1.

Handling of air cargo has presented its own set of challenges. Ortia management said in April, the only completed month for which figures are available, the airport received 476 cargo flights compared with 294 cargo flights in April 2019.

Airport spokesperson Betty Maloka said air cargo has maintained a vital economic lifeline at a critical time for SA.

“With most economic activity limited for the past two months, we remain very much aware of the airport’s roles and responsibilities in facilitating cargo flights,” she said.

Personal protective equipment (PPE), medical devices and pharmaceuticals account for most of the increase in cargo volumes.

Incoming PPE has also been forwarded to neighbouring countries which procured their own supplies but required air connectivity to take delivery.

“Air cargo in these categories has received priority for clearing through customs. However, processing cargo through the airport takes longer than previously not only because of the volumes, but also because of hygiene and sanitisation rules and the need for staff to adhere to physical distancing,” Maloka said.

In addition, she said a number of airlines have been using passenger aircraft to transport cargo.

“Cargo transported in passenger aircraft is not packed on sealed pallets in the normal way. It is broken up and placed on seats in the passenger cabin. This has created challenges in terms of unloading and storing cargo once it is offloaded and waiting to be cleared,” she said.

Ways of streamlining and improving cargo processing systems are the subject of continuing engagement between airport management, the Air Cargo Operators Committee (Acoc), the SA Express Parcel Association (Saepa) and the SA Association of Freight Forwarders (Saaff).

Maloka said the significant increase in volumes led not only to storage challenges, but also stretched cargo service providers and the logistics industry.

The cargo precinct at Ortia has about 140 operators, including freight forwarders, clearing agents, couriers, express services, cargo handlers, freighters, specialised, perishables, cargo examiners and government agencies. This figure excludes the road-feeder transport companies which also operate in and out of the cargo area.  

Maloka said the greater volumes of cargo have also required an increased focus on security, particularly on the airside waiting area.

“Operators based at the cargo precinct are responsible for their own cargo security, including securing consignments and storage facilities. However, an integrated multidisciplinary tactical security team is in place to manage and oversee the tactical security plan for the cargo area.

“This team includes representation from the police and the intelligence cluster led by the State Security Agency.

“Cargo operators at the airport are continuously appraised of their security risks and provided with information and intelligence to enhance their security processes and protocols.”


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