In the past three months, the Russian carrier Volga-Dnepr has operated 48 Antonov-124 cargo flights to deliver 3,000 tonnes of medical supplies. The French logistics company Geodis coordinated the operation.
The Cold War-era AN-124s, which were built in Ukraine, are the largest commercial cargo aircraft in service and are normally associated with irregular flights of large and heavy loads, including US military equipment to the Middle East.
The French Ministry of Solidarity and Health hired Volga-Dnepr and Geodis to create an “air bridge” transporting face masks, surgical gowns and other essential protective equipment from Shenzhen, China, to Paris for distribution to hospitals across the country.
According to Volga-Dnepr, its fleet of 12 AN-124s landed at Paris-Vatry airport every 48 hours from the beginning of April to the end of June. The carrier estimates that it transported more than 1 million cubic feet of protective medical equipment from China to France during this period.
“It was a unique air transportation challenge, given its size, frequency and the epidemiological factors that our operating teams and all stakeholders faced,” said Stuart Smith, global director of humanitarian services of Volga-Dnepr, in a press release.
The airline said it also encountered flight crew quarantine restrictions, severe congestion at Chinese airports and regulatory barriers to Chinese exports. Geodis logistics staff worked closely with Volga-Dnepr to lighten these loads.
Other countries, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain and Germany, used similar air bridges involving commercial aircraft this spring to deliver medical protective equipment from Chinese manufacturers to hospital workers. frontline workers fighting the spread of COVID-19.
The US program, dubbed “Project Airbridge”, also ended last month.
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Click for more FreightWaves / American Shipper articles by Chris Gillis.