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COVID-19 Crisis — Ensuring the Continuity of Cargo Operations

By  Brussels, — Last updated on 8 December 2023

Air cargo has proven essential since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in bringing essential goods (food, critical medicines, protective equipment, etc) to Europe and maintaining global value chains. When supply chains break down in times of crisis, only air cargo can help within hours worldwide — and it has done so under the most difficult conditions over the last few months, illustrating its systemic relevance.

Before the crisis, approximately half of air cargo was carried in the belly of passenger aircraft. With most passenger flights grounded, freighters are in high demand and many passenger aircraft are being re-purposed and used for cargo-only flights. Even though the sector has been playing its part to offer additional capacity and respond to specific COVID-19 related demand, it remains to be seen how the general industry and consumer demand will develop in the coming weeks and months. We therefore call on the European Commission and national governments to support the essential role air cargo continues to play by removing unnecessary obstacles.

A4E welcomed the Commission’s guidelines from 26 March on “Facilitating Air Cargo Operations during COVID-19 outbreak”, and we believe that continued attention needs to be placed on air cargo as the EU and its Member States work on exit strategies from the crisis.

In order to ensure the return to normal operations as soon as possible, the following elements need to be acted upon or taken into consideration:

1) At EU level

A clear and legally binding definition of “crew” relevant to cargo operations should be adopted, covering pilots but also loadmasters, flight engineers and cargo attendants. Such an EU definition of cargo crew would be relevant from a security but also from a facilitation point of view (immigration, visa, crew cards, etc).

• In parallel, deadheading crews should not be considered as passengers but remain simply “crew” even when positioning to or de-positioning from flight duty.

• An international standard on crew entry is of utmost importance: refraining from tests, recognition of pre-departure tests taken at homebase, no quarantine/isolation but direct repatriation.

• A mutual recognition of background checked staff should be established, to facilitate the transfer of staff with technical competencies between EU airports. An EU airport badge should be recognised as always fulfilling the same basic EU background check requirement.

• The EU Green Lanes established to connect surface transport throughout the EU need to be maintained as long as necessary, together with the freedom of movement for transport personnel and crews. These two elements are essential for cargo operations in Europe.

• The upcoming implementation of EU legislations should be postponed by one year (TRACES NT for instance or postponement of all cargo security validations in third countries — ACC3, RA3, KC3).

• Requirements and processes, especially for air cargo security and customs — need to be evaluated in light of the current crisis, including a holistic approach to PLACI (Pre-Loading Advanced Cargo Information) using existing EU and international transport standards to inform customs and security processes.

• We call on the European Commission to ensure full coordination with international partners to establish joint standards for air cargo.

• We call on the Commission to include ambitious R&D projects on digitalisation and innovation, covering ground operations, monitoring and reporting in its recovery plan and the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF).

2) At National level

• Member States should ensure that enough personnel is available to proceed with all necessary state controls like border checks, customs, security, and veterinary offices as the level of activity will increase in the coming weeks.

• Flexible processing for night curfews at EU airports for essential air cargo transports should remain in place, at least until the end of 2020.

Handling at airports should focus on all operations alike — passenger and cargo, without giving precedence to passenger flights.

• COVID-19 restrictions should be lifted as soon as safely possible, with close cooperation between Member States in line with the Commission guidelines published on 13 May.

Digitalisation should be our collective priority, as the current crisis is pushing us to rethink some key processes. The upcoming implementation of the Electronic Freight Transport Information Regulation (eFTI) marks the first step towards further digitalisation of reporting processes, to be accelerated in the Member States and via the Digital Transport and Logistics Forum (DTLF).


Air cargo has proven essential during the COVID-19 health crisis. Policymakers at the EU and national level should do everything to ensure that the sector can continue to play a key role in the next phase of economic recovery. A4E and its airlines are committed to working hand in hand with authorities to reach this goal.