Talk about a level playing field? With the latest U.S. passenger travel restrictions on Europe kicking in on March 13, the balance just tipped sharply in favor of freighter aircraft when it comes to trans-Atlantic air cargo capacity. While some passenger belly cargo options to and from Europe remain, prospects are high that a large chunk of that area’s passenger flying to and from the U.S. will be suspended during this period. The U.S. government’s action doesn’t apply to European trade or air cargo, so freighter operators can take full advantage of the opportunity. Similar to what we are seeing in China now, expect tighter market and pricing conditions to prevail after March 13 for at least 30 days, and possibly longer until the U.S. restrictions are relaxed and passenger demand allows suspended flights to be restored.
Historically the tonnage flying across the Atlantic has been pretty evenly allocated between passenger widebody and all-cargo aircraft, so this is a significant shift that potentially opens up a lot of leveraging opportunity by freighter operators with shippers in dire need of capacity. Who are the likely winners? Big trans-Atlantic freighter operators Cargolux, Lufthansa Cargo, Air France/KLM, and Air Bridge Cargo, for starters. Qatar Airways, Emirates SkyCargo and CAL stop over on the continent on their way to and from their Middle East hubs and look for local cargo. A few Asian carriers have eastbound freighter schedules from select U.S. gateway cities to Brussels (BRU) and other major European distribution centers. With China air cargo starting back up after the extended Chinese New Year and quarantines, we’ll be monitoring how quickly airlines ramp up their trans-Atlantic freighter schedules and the impact that has on shippers and belly cargo operators.