Calls rise for Indian air-cargo fleet

In aviation, air cargo always plays second fiddle to passenger traffic. The situation is no different in India, where local players have a miniscule share in air freight transportation, a space they have almost completely ceded to foreign players. But the Covid-19 crisis, while shutting down passenger transport, has shown the important role air-cargo operations play in keeping critical supply chains open.

India has been forced to operate passenger aircraft to haul critical cargo, including test kits and other medical equipment. This situation has triggered a call for an Indian air-freighter fleet. "When I see the complete focus of the aviation industry worldwide on cargo for its very survival today, it makes me wonder, does it take a pandemic to demonstrate its importance?" Keku Bomi Gazder, CEO, AAI Cargo Logistics and Allied Services Co Ltd, a subsidiary of Airports Authority of India, tweeted.

IATA, on its part, said that second-quarter 2020 revenue for aviation, expected to fall 68 per cent year-on-year, would have been far worse but for cargo operations. It is not that India never had a serious cargo play. According to B Govindarajan, Chief Operating Officer, Tirwin Management Services (P) Ltd, an aviation consultancy firm, Air India had freighter and combi-aircraft operations for cargo even before many of today's global airlines came into being. "But we failed to build its national air cargo capacity and began depending totally on foreign carriers.

This lockdown situation should open our eyes to build cargo capacity," he said. An Indian network would lead to reduction in directional difference in traffic and lower operational costs, resulting in a reduction in freight costs. Today, the freight component in import or export is repatriated to the operator in foreign exchange, thus denying India an opportunity to retain a major portion of such earnings.

Advantage India

Agreeing with Govindarajan, Sunil Arora, MD, Delta Air Freight, said that India's geographical location is advantageous for movement of cargo globally.

Arora is also President of the Air Cargo Agents Association of India. Today, only BlueDart and SpiceJetoperate cargo services, pointed out an airline official who did not want to be quoted. But such a move will require policy support.

A freighter is treated on par with passenger aircraft.

For instance, fuel and airport charges are the same.

The cost of operation thus makes domestic air cargo unviable, said Amit Bajaj, Director of Mituj Marketing Pvt Ltd, who is also President of the Domestic Air Cargo Agents Association.

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