The European Commission is aware that the COVID-19 outbreak is having a devastating impact on international and European aviation. Air traffic has dropped by more than 80% and almost all passenger flights are cancelled. Apart from the significant drop in demand for transport, the situation is also partly due to the containment measures (travel restrictions and flight bans) imposed by states.
However, continuous and uninterrupted air cargo services are of key strategic importance for the EU. They play an essential role in the rapid delivery of essential goods, medicines, medical equipment and supplies, organs or other substances of human origin. Air freight also keeps global supply chains running for many of the most time-sensitive and high-value materials and is a crucial complement to the transport of cargo by land and sea.
Approximately half of all air cargo is carried in the hold of passenger aircraft. However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, these aircraft hardly fly anymore. Although all cargo flights are still operated at a similar level to the same period last year, these cargo flights alone are not able to compensate for the loss of cargo capacity on passenger aircraft. Shippers are already reporting a lack of capacity and a sharp increase in airfreight rates.
The European Commission therefore issued a communication on the 26th of March 2020 containing guidelines for its member states. As part of the European Union's efforts to keep essential transport flows moving, Member States are primarily requested to simplify air cargo operations during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Directives are intended to assist Member States in maintaining and facilitating air cargo operations, including the transport of essential goods such as foodstuffs and medical supplies, in particular those whose delivery is time-sensitive.
The European Commission therefore invites the Member States to take the following operational and organisational measures, on the understanding that these exceptional measures are temporary for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis, until the exceptional air traffic and travel restrictions have been lifted:
1. For transport from outside the EU, all necessary authorisations and permits should be granted without delay, including temporary traffic rights for additional cargo flights, even when operated with passenger aircraft;
2. The temporary lifting, or flexible application, of night flight bans or slot restrictions at airports for essential air cargo operations;
3. The facilitation of the use of passenger aircraft for cargo operations only, including overflight of air cargo personnel, medical personnel and anyone involved in freight operations,
4. Qualifying air cargo and handling and maintenance personnel as critical personnel in the event of lockdown or curfew;
5. Member States should ensure that sufficient cargo capacity is provided when regional airports are closed for economic reasons, or consider keeping airports open only for air cargo, and in any event ensure that open airports maintain sufficient air cargo handling capacity to ensure timely handling and delivery;
6. The exemption from travel restrictions for transport staff, including aircrews, engaged in the carriage of goods, and in so far as they are symptom-free;
7. The exemption from containment measures for aircrew, cargo staff and airport staff working at the airport, provided they do not show symptoms and adequate health protocols are in place;
8. Enabling rapid ad hoc exemptions to address unexpected situations, such as sudden and unforeseen emergency operations;
9. Enable airport personnel to do their job both safely and efficiently, by guiding personnel with preventive health guidelines in an air cargo environment and supporting them in the delivery of hygiene products;
10. Encouraging freight and express carriers, on an exceptional basis, to maintain capacity for the delivery of essential goods, particularly medical and emergency supplies, and to charge reasonable freight rates for such deliveries.
In addition, the European Commission addresses non-EU countries. The European Commission invites third countries to refrain from unnecessary restrictions on air cargo operations, in the common interest of continuity of supply chains for essential goods, including specialised and critical products such as medical supplies. The European Commission recalls that restrictions imposed by third countries on air cargo operations must be in line with international rules. The Commission will take all practical measures to ensure that third countries comply with their international obligations vis-à-vis EU airlines.
Finally, the European Commission calls on all Member States to apply the measures set out as a matter of urgency.
The full Communication is available here
The European Commission has also issued a Communication on the 30th of March 2020 containing directives and guidelines on the exercise of freedom of movement for workers during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The continued free movement of all workers in key professions is essential, both for cross-border workers and posted workers. Member States must allow these workers to enter the territory of one Member State and to have free access to their workplace.
The European Commission lists all key professions, including transport workers and, in particular, airline pilots. Member States are asked to establish specific, burden-free and rapid procedures for crossing borders in order to ensure smooth passage for such workers.
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