By Guillaume Xavier-Bender, Policy Director, Airlines 4 Europe (A4E)

It is not a myth. Nor a legend. Or a tall tale told to children to keep them wondering and amazed:
Presents do fly around the world for Christmas.

Yet Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and Rudolph aren’t the only ones soaring tirelessly through the skies pulling their bottomless sleigh. Like Santa, they too have helpers who make sure that the gifts and delights wished for the holidays arrive on time, and intact.

These helpers are air cargo carriers. Their sleighs range from full freighters, such as Boeing’s 747-8F or Airbus’ A330-220F, to the bellies of regular passenger aircraft. From the millions of letters to Santa and holiday greeting cards that are sent every day to the farthest corners of the world to shoppers’ online orders, supplies for local businesses, and shipments of perishables — cargo operators make it possible for time- sensitive goods to “get there” when needed. And just before the holidays — everything is time-sensitive.

Having the necessary capacity to accommodate this additional volume is therefore essential. Carriers take exceptional measures by either maximising the use of their belly space or by deploying more fullfreighters in their network. This year again, for instance, Lufthansa Cargo is dispatching additional weekly flights across the Atlantic to meet the needs of global mail carrier, the Deutsche Post. Already since mid-November and continuing through the beginning of January, a McDonnell Douglas MD-11F, at 61 meters long, will contribute an additional 60 tons of capacity per flight between Frankfurt and New York. That’s enough space to fit the length of an *Olympic-sized swimming pool! Generally speaking, the volume of daily cargo shipments during the holidays is around 30 % higher than in other months. Last year in Amsterdam, for example, KLM Cargo processed close to a million packages and mail per week during the holiday season.

In today’s booming eCommerce age, where expectations for “within 24h delivery” have become the norm, every additional ton of capacity available in the network counts. This matters both for individual consumers anxiously awaiting their gifts’ on-time arrival, as well as for businesses depending on fast, reliable and secure air cargo services to keep up with their orders. Whereas shipments between Asia and Europe can take up to four weeks for delivery by sea, shipments by air cargo can involve a simple 12-hour flight.

In addition to saving valuable time, air cargo facilitates the secure movement of valuable goods. As in years past, hundreds of millions of smartphones and tablets will have flown across the world to contribute to holiday cheer. But not just electronics and manufactured goods – high-end foods, fancy wines and liquor from around the world are also in high-demand. Last Christmas, for example, IAG Cargo shipped a whopping 26 tons of cognac from Bordeaux to Orlando. Special climate-controlled holds also allow for renown Belgian chocolate to reach dessert tables and stores alike with unfaltering taste.

Somehow, the holidays are another reminder of the role that air cargo plays in the everyday lives of consumers. It is so much more than crates in the air. It is the flowers one brings to dinner. It is the race horse gearing-up to bring another trophy back home. It is the vaccines and medication that save lives. Or the emergency supplies arriving as soon as they are needed where catastrophe strikes.

In many ways, the future of air cargo and its continued growth is intrinsically linked to the broader future of aviation in Europe. Inefficiencies in the air and on the ground, unjustifiable taxes, disruptions in crossborder mobility, and inappropriate regulation which hinders innovation, also have an impact on the flow of goods. Policy-makers in Brussels and national capitals should keep air cargo in mind as they shape a seamless future for aviation.
Of all of Santa’s reindeers, Rudolph is often the only one remembered. Perhaps it is because our collective imagination only sees Rudolph’s red nose guiding Santa safely around the world. But the eight other reindeer are essential to make the trip possible. In the same way that air cargo carriers support the holidays and make many of the joys we may otherwise take for granted, possible.
*Length of an Olympic-sized pool is 50 meters long