Cargo-only ‘preighters’ pose numerous challenges: Fraport

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The coronavirus-induced upheaval in the air cargo market which has led to use of passenger aircraft pressed into service as freighters has created numerous procedural and manpower challenges, says Frankfurt Airport (FRA).

The global coronavirus outbreak has seen import volumes at Frankfurt Airport (FRA) rising sharply as exports stagnate and transit cargo almost disappearing. There has also been a noticeable shift in the shape and type of shipments towards small, loose packages, the airport says.

In tandem with its partners on-site, Frankfurt Airport says it has responded quickly to these changes, ensuring continued delivery of vital goods to Germany and Europe during the Corona crisis.

Lufthansa cargo on seats
The ‘preighter’: A new term in the air cargo vocabulary coined by Lufthansa Cargo to denote the transformation of passenger aircraft into cargo only ‘freighters’.

Significantly, the majority of shipments handled during the past weeks comprised urgently-needed medical and pharmaceutical protective supplies. Due to the collapse in passenger traffic, the missing belly capacity is now being partially compensated through the use of so-called ‘Preighters’ – passenger aircraft used for freight-only carriage.

“Passenger planes being used as all-freighters require labor-intensive manual loading and unloading of cargo,” highlights Max Philipp Conrady, head of central cargo infrastructure at Fraport AG, the operator of Frankfurt Airport. “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 underscored the sudden changes in the airfreight business. Claus Wagner, managing director at FCS Frankfurt Cargo Services, adds: “During the past few weeks we have been handling more than 200 metric tonnes 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.”

Fraport warehouse
Fraport’s warehouse facilities are operating at full capacity, with staff working nonstop.

Along with the composition of the freight, the inclusion of many new players in the supply chain is a further challenge. Wagner explains: “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, they say. Joint solutions such as extra parking spaces, more staff, and inter-company assistance underscore the importance of Frankfurt Airport as a strategic global cargo hub.

Fraport’s Conrady goes on to say: “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 indispensable for delivering essential supplies to the people.”

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