Thursday, 26 March 2020

Cargo charters during a crisis – virgin territory for Virgin Atlantic

Cargo charters during a crisis – 
virgin territory for Virgin Atlantic
BY: MICHAEL OAKES

On the surface of it, flight VS698 looked like any other flight to New York. Parked at Terminal 3’s Gate 13, G-VSPY, one of our 787-9s, had an 11:25 departure scheduled on Saturday 21st March 2020. The aircraft was connected to the gate by an airbridge, had a full load of fuel, a flight plan to take it across the Atlantic, and had passed all final safety checks. This flight was Virgin Atlantic’s first ever cargo-only charter. The flight was going to depart with two pilots, one cabin crew member, and a belly full of pharmaceutical and medical products.

The Covid-19 crisis has created unprecedented levels of disruption which have hit the airline industry particularly hard. Travel restrictions being introduced around the world now prevent the majority of passengers from flying as freely as they usually do. Thousands of flights have been cancelled and aircraft have been grounded, including here at Virgin Atlantic. We’re currently only able to operate a handful of flights until the situation improves.

But out of crisis, innovation is born. Although the medical crisis has led to a temporary decrease in passengers wanting to fly, cargo demand remains strong. With so many airlines cancelling flights, there has also been a dramatic decrease in cargo space available. Airline capacity across the Atlantic is a fraction of what it was a few months ago, but global trade continues, and vital supply chains need to be maintained.
The Virgin Atlantic Cargo team spotted the opportunity and rose to the challenge. Every year, Virgin Atlantic transports over 200,000 tonnes of cargo on its global network. If you’ve ever flown with us, chances are you were sitting above all sorts of goods and products being shipped around the world. We bring salmon from lochs in Scotland to plates in Los Angeles, pharmaceuticals from scientists in Tel Aviv to patients in Lagos, fruit from farms in South Africa to mouths in London – the list goes on.

Global trade depends on airlines like Virgin Atlantic to get things from A to B, and that hasn’t stopped, even during the crisis we now face.  Our Cargo team swung into action and found a way to help customers, new and old, keep their freight moving while at the same time keeping some of our beautiful aircraft in the skies.

Flight VS698 on 21 March was our first-ever cargo-only charter flight. Captain Steve Wrigley and First Officer James Bennett were joined by just one other person, Cabin Service Supervisor Katie Lang. No passengers were on board, but in the hold was 11 pallets of cargo being sent to the US by a UK-based pharmaceutical company. The aircraft will turn around in JFK and fly back to the UK full of inbound cargo.

“I must say, standing out on the ramp at an eerily quiet Heathrow today really brought home to me the scale of what’s happening here - and added to my feeling of immense pride as I watched our inaugural cargo-only charter get airborne, knowing the aircraft would have otherwise been sat on the ground if not for the herculean effort by our cargo team in making this happen, especially at such short notice and in these challenging times”. - Dominic Kennedy.

More photos and the full article by Michael Oaks is on the Virgin Atlantic blog.

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