State-owned Airports Company South Africa’s OR Tambo International Airport, east of Johannesburg, has reported that, over the period from March 26 to May 22, it handled 1 400 arriving and departing air cargo flights. This amounted to a 62% increase over the same period last year.
For April – the only full month for which statistics are so far available – 476 cargo flights arrived at the airport. The figure for April 2019 was 294. “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 at this time,” said OR Tambo International Airport spokesperson Betty Maloka.
Most of the increase in air cargo volumes was accounted for by medical devices, personal protective equipment (PPE) and pharmaceuticals, needed to counter the current Covid-19 pandemic. PPE shipments included those ordered by other Southern African countries, which had to be shipped via South Africa.
“Air cargo in these categories has received priority for clearing through customs,” she reported. “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.”
Some airlines have been using airliners to fly cargo. When cargo is carried on the passenger deck (in addition to in the cargo hold below) it is broken up and put on the seats. This has complicated the cargo unloading and storage (while awaiting clearance) processes.
The airport’s management was continually working with the Air Cargo Operators Committee, the South African Express Parcel Association and the South African Association of Freight Forwarders to streamline the processing of cargoes. The increase in air cargo was also putting strain on cargo service providers and the logistics sector.
The airport’s cargo precinct had some 140 companies and agencies including cargo handlers, clearing agents, couriers, freighters, freight forwarders, cargo examiners and government agencies, and those who handled specialised and perishable cargoes. This number did not include the road transport companies that operated into and out of the cargo precinct.
“Operators based at the cargo precinct are responsible for their own cargo security including securing consignments and storage facilities,” explained Maloka. “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 South African Police Service and the intelligence cluster led by the State Security Agency.”