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Red Sea crisis expands Airfreight services and increases cost : Air Cargo Forum

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NEW DELHI : In the wake of the Red Sea crisis, air freight from India has more than doubled in recent months, positioning the country to meet its ambitious target of handling 10 million tonnes (MT) of air cargo by 2030-31.

According to industry experts, air freight from India has more than doubled in recent months, a trend directly attributed to the Red Sea crisis. This surge follows a period of recovery post-Covid, where air cargo volumes had already rebounded to the peak levels of 3.5 MT seen in 2017-18.

Yashpal Sharma, President of the Air Cargo Forum of India (ACFI), highlighted two critical areas for improvement to maintain this momentum: reducing trans-shipment times and allowing foreign freighter aircraft to serve multiple Indian cities in a single trip, a practice known as “double dipping.”

“Less than 2 per cent of freight globally moves by air,” Sharma noted at the ACFI Annual Conclave 2024. “With the Red Sea crisis, even a half percent shift will result in a significant increase in air cargo volumes. 

India has a tremendous opportunity, but we must address these challenges, particularly the current 2-2.5 day trans-shipment time.”

India’s air freight market presents a unique profile, with international imports, exports, and domestic cargo each accounting for roughly a third of total volume. 

Notably, only 15 per cent of air cargo is transported by dedicated freighter aircraft, with the remainder carried in the belly of passenger planes.

The sector has seen significant fluctuations in recent years. Piyush Srivastava, Senior Economic Advisor in the aviation ministry, reported that the number of freighter aircraft in India rose from 6 pre-Covid to 28 during the pandemic, before settling at the current fleet of 18.

“The government facilitated the conversion of passenger aircraft to freighters, and numerous steps have been taken to boost the sector. However, to compete with rail and road transport, we must streamline processes and improve turnaround times”, Srivastava explained.

Despite these positive trends, there’s still room for growth. Surendra Kumar, Joint Secretary (logistics and trade) at DPIIT, revealed that while 70 airports have cargo facilities, many are underutilised due to inadequate integration with other transport modes.

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