Mark Briffa, CEO of Air Partner, has warned of the problems that could be created when governments impose blanket travel bans. “Global air infrastructure has always played an important role at times of global crisis,” he explains, and the coronavirus pandemic is no different. Globally, health infrastructures and economies are relying on the airfreight industry to transport time-critical and temperature sensitive cargo, which includes medicines and medical supplies.
“Airports and airways need to remain open for urgent travel and transportation, but currently the trend is going in the other direction, towards universal closure, despite the fact that there are still countless people stranded around the world, with limited – if any – means of getting back to their home countries. Presently, there are an estimated 300,000 to 1,000,000 Britons stranded overseas, many of whom cannot afford the drastically inflated ticket prices for the few flights that are operating back to the UK. Governments must have the appropriate designations and approvals in place to enable evacuations and repatriations to take place,” says Briffa.
“This movement of vital supplies is crucial, and there is no faster way than by air. Back in 2014 and 2015, we saw first-hand just how important this was when we participated in the humanitarian response to the Ebola epidemic by flying aid to the affected regions. At the peak of the crisis, our freight team was operating flights every 48 hours carrying cargo of medical equipment and supplies, vehicles, construction materials and protective clothing,” Briffa recalls.
The health and safety of citizens is vital but some of the drastic restricting measures that affect airfreight industry may in fact hider the fight against the virus. “It would be very dangerous to underestimate the very severe economic repercussions of shutting down supply chains,” warns Briffa. “Who knows if they will be able to start up again? To the extent that we can, we need to keep the economy moving, and this necessarily involves transport.”
Briffa believes that the key is to restrict travel, not impose blanket bans. “We simply ask that proportionate measures are taken. We opened up the skies so that we could transport people and goods quickly and efficiently around the globe: let’s not close them entirely when we need to do this more than ever, in order to fly people safely home and get supplies to those who desperately need them.”