How Cathay Pacific Cargo is responding to COVID-19

Find out what actions we’re taking to keep shipments safely moving during the novel coronavirus outbreak, including cargo-only passenger flights

Air cargo is as essential as ever with the outbreak of COVID-19 restricting transport and impacting supply chains. Cathay Pacific has taken steps to ensure continued operations while also protecting the wellbeing of customers and employees.

The ever-changing situation has raised several customer questions. Cathay Pacific Cargo and Cathay Pacific Services Ltd (CPSL) – the wholly owned Cathay Pacific subsidiary that operates the Cathay Pacific Cargo Terminal – provide the answers below.

Q: Has the pandemic impacted the Cathay Pacific Cargo freighter schedule?

A: Cathay Pacific’s 20-strong freighter fleet continues to operate around the clock carrying vital personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical supplies to support the global effort to combat the virus. Additional flights have been operated to cater to increased demand for airfreight services; however, there have been some unavoidable freighter schedule adjustments due to government-imposed flight restrictions in some countries such as India and Vietnam. Customers can view the most up-to-date schedule information using the “Check Flight Availability” function on the Cathay Pacific Cargo homepage.

Q: What cargo options are available under Cathay’s reduced passenger flight schedule?

A: With Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon operating a bare skeleton passenger flight schedule in April and May, measures have been taken to supplement capacity with cargo-only passenger flights to many other destinations around the globe. Cathay operated more than 250 pairs of these flights in March and over 500 pairs in April.

In addition, flights can be arranged on an ad-hoc or charter basis. Further capacity is available on freighters operated by Air Hong Kong, a Cathay Pacific subsidiary.

Q: In addition to the belly capacity of passenger aircraft, is it possible to use the passenger cabin as other airlines have done?

A: Yes, Cathay Pacific operated its first ever passenger aircraft transporting cargo in the passenger cabin on 23 April from Hong Kong to Los Angeles. We have obtained special approval from the Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department (HKCAD) to utilise our Boeing 777 passenger aircraft to transport cargo between seats and inside overhead bins in the Economy Class cabins. The approval process has been a complex one lasting several weeks with the involvement of numerous stakeholders to ensure that safety comes first.

These aircraft will not be able to carry Cargo Aircraft Only goods (CAO) and Dangerous Goods (DG), which are prohibited inside the passenger cabin. All ignition sources must be isolated and mitigations put in place for all eventualities.

The loading process requires more time to safely prepare, pack and secure the main deck area – around 3.5 hours to load, and about the same to unload – which will be handled by ground operators. Belt loaders are unable to reach the main deck, thus loading is a labour-intensive process.

Q: Are there currently any restrictions on types of shipments or specialised services?

A: All types of shipments are being accepted, and Cathay Pacific Cargo’s full offering of products and solutions remain available for booking. Our cargo sales teams are on hand to answer customer enquiries and requests as usual.

Q: What measures are being taken at the Cathay Pacific Cargo Terminal to prevent the spread of COVID-19?

A: Temperature checks are required for all visitors and employees at entrances, including those who enter by vehicle. Hand sanitiser is readily available at the main entrance and in public areas, while surfaces in washrooms, lifts and other high-use areas are cleaned frequently throughout the day with a bleach solution. If there is a suspected case of coronavirus infection, additional deep cleaning and disinfection will be conducted.

In addition, work-from-home arrangements are in place to reduce the number of people in Cathay offices. While the terminal remains open to customers, cargo agents and drivers to conduct their regular business, tours have been suspended to limit the number of people inside.

Q: What precautions are in place for Cathay aircraft, flight crews and cargo handlers?

A: Thorough deep cleaning and disinfection is conducted on Cathay aircraft using products recommended by IATA (International Air Transport Association) and WHO (World Health Organization). On freighters, this includes additional disinfection of the cockpit.

Flight crews follow mitigation measures that include wearing masks, frequently cleaning hands, limiting close contact on flights and maintaining social distancing during layovers. We are constantly monitoring the health risks and regulations at various destinations in order to adjust these measures accordingly.

Cargo handlers are advised to maintain proper hygiene at all times. IATA guidelines emphasise that cargo handlers must wash their hands frequently, even if they have been wearing gloves as protection against mechanical hazards.

Q: Is it possible for the novel coronavirus to contaminate shipments?

A: The WHO states that the likelihood of the virus contaminating shipping containers is low, and that there has been no evidence of COVID-19 cases resulting from contact with goods or products. Shipments are therefore safe for customers to receive.

Q: How is Cathay Pacific Cargo addressing the situation as it evolves?

A: Cathay Pacific is continuously monitoring the situation and keeping in contact with relevant airport and government authorities, while also focusing on flexible solutions to increase cargo capacity to meet customer demand. Status updates and schedule changes are communicated to customers via email; click here to subscribe.

As the economic impact of COVID-19 intensifies, a recovery timeline in our customer demand remains difficult to predict. In May and June, Cathay Pacific will continue to operate a bare skeleton passenger flight schedule to limit expenditure and preserve cash for the coming months, with gradual schedule increases in late June, subject to government quarantine restrictions and global travel demand. We will remain flexible and continue to adapt to deliver the best possible outcomes to our customers.

Q: How is air cargo proving to be an asset at this time?

A: Carriers such as Cathay Pacific Cargo are vital to the global fight against COVID-19, quickly delivering pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and personal protective equipment such as masks that are urgently needed around the world.

Nelson Chin, General Manager Cargo Commercial, Cathay Pacific, said: ‘We are proud to play an important part in keeping global supply chains moving for medical supplies, food and other essential products. Throughout this critical time, our teams have worked hard to adapt to numerous schedule changes and maintain the best possible service for our customers.’