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Cargo airlines cancel flights as Shanghai enforces COVID lockdown

The staggered lockdown of Shanghai to contain the biggest wave of COVID-19 since the early days of the pandemic is quickly crimping the movement of air cargo.

City officials shut down the eastern half of the city on Monday through April 1 and told people on the western side to quarantine at home or compounds from April 1 to April 5 while they conduct mass testing. With no public transport and people stuck at home, manpower shortages are hindering manufacturing and logistics activity. Many factories and warehouses have closed, getting goods to and from local airports is difficult because few trucks are available and airports have limited staff to handle cargo, according to logistics companies operating in China.

Both Shanghai Pudong airport and Shanghai Hongqiao city airport are running, but with very limited capacity and mostly for passenger flights, Christos Spyrou, CEO and founder of Neutral Air Partner, a Hong Kong-based co-operative of airfreight agents, said via email. 

During the lockdown, motor carriers can’t use the roads to Shanghai Pudong airport, the main cargo hub. Once the lockdowns are lifted, trucks without a certificate of a negative COVID test within 48 hours won’t be allowed to cross the border between provinces, which potentially could extend the capacity crunch, he said.

Logistics providers say they are trying to gauge what air cargo activity is possible during the lockdown, but freight forwarder Dimerco said in a customer notice that some all-cargo carriers such as Cargolux have already canceled flights to Shanghai. 

Spryou said China Airlines has also canceled several freighter flights to Los Angeles between Wednesday and next Tuesday, as well as three upcoming flights to Chicago. 

C.H. Robinson said in a service update that customs processing will also be slower as Chinese authorities are only accepting electronic declarations and not conducting other services such as cargo inspections.

The COVID measures come as the air cargo sector was coping with the loss of shipping capacity and escalating fuel prices due to the Russia-Ukraine war. Western sanctions knocked Russian cargo airlines out of the market and Russia blocked its airspace to overflights, lengthening routes between Europe and Asia. Pandemic restrictions by Hong Kong authorities have also severely hampered the freighter operations of Cathay Pacific, a major cargo carrier. The loss of transport supply combined with higher operating costs have driven up cargo rates in the past month.

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.

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