On April 1, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the Government of India had relaxed norms and given special permission to conduct cargo operations using passenger aircraft during the COVID-19 lockdown period. However, barring the initial flights, the ministry has observed that these air cargo and private passenger flights are now not filling to capacity.
The request was at the behest of Pharmaceuticals Export Promotion Council of India (Pharmexcil) to allow smooth movement of medicines and medical equipment by air as road transport had been disrupted after the nationwide lockdown due to COVID-19,. Air India, Alliance Air and Indian Air force was operating their services before private passenger aircraft were allowed to share the load of essential supplies, while adhering to specified conditions.
Addressing this shortfall, the DGCA has urged pharma companies to utilise the airways services, which are operating with low loads.
A source from the DGCA informed that the supply of essential medical supplies/equipment from major hubs to the respective State capitals is under way. After permission was received for passenger flights to carry the cargo, the first few flights observed full flight load.
However, loads on later flights decreased. the source mentioned that one of the flights carried just 750 kg weight.
Such low loads are not economically viable for the government to continue such flight operations. In spite of this, the system has been kept functioning as some of the goods being transported on such flights are very essential and helpful to the nation to fight the COVID-19 pandemic
He also indicated that the Ministry has given signs that if some tweaking is required in the existing system to meet Pharmexcil’s requirements, they will take this into consideration.
Dr Dinesh Dua, Chairman, Pharmexcil said, “We appreciate the government’s intervention on our request and allowing the passenger category aircraft to carry the pharma essential commodities. We have received the concerns from the DGCA about a low load of aircraft, and have communicated to our members and asked to utilise the services optimally both for exports, imports and domestic distribution.”
Explaining the reasons of low load of pharma supplies in aircraft, M Madan Mohan Reddy, Director, Aurobindo Pharma said, “Though its a nice move, due to the cost factors which has increased almost three times, pharma companies are choosing a sea route over air. For example, before COVID-19, charges for exports/ imports to the US market were Rs 300 per kg, which has now gone up by three times and it is not financially feasible for the pharma manufacturers to opt for air unless and until its a matter of urgency.”
The civil aviation ministry has also allowed other private commercial cargo flights to transport cargo.