Long-haul carrier Emirates sends free aid to India
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Dubai long-haul carrier Emirates to start shipping free aid from the World Health Organization and other groups to India to help fight a crushing epidemic coronavirus, the airline said on Sunday.
The Emirates offer, which offers around 95 flights per week to nine cities in India, initially involves assistance already in Dubai, but could expand into the carrier’s network over time. This could mean significant savings for aid groups, as air freight costs have skyrocketed amid the pandemic. Demand for air freight is reaching record levels around the world.
Emirates made the announcement in Dubai’s International Humanitarian City, which already houses a WHO warehouse that has been crucial for the distribution of medical supplies around the world. A WHO worker on a forklift moved boxes of Pakistani-made tents and rolls of South Korean netting in preparation for the initial flight scheduled for Thursday. This will be used to build field hospitals for India’s overwhelmed health care system.
Nabil Sultan, senior vice president of Emirates SkyCargo division, said the initial priority would be to ship aid from Dubai, rather than elsewhere from its network. As air freight costs hit record highs, Sultan said the offer of free delivery for aid to India is now important for an airline that has flown to the Asian country. South since the founding of the transporter in 1985.
“Our relationship with India in particular goes a long way and at times like this I think it is absolutely essential that we make sure that essentials get to India and to the Indian people,” Sultan told the Associated Press. “Now is the time for us to give back.”
As India has become an economic powerhouse, Emirates and its base at Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest for international travel. The airline serves as a key link in East-West travel. The number of passengers from India to Emirates, just under three million in 2008, rose to 5.5 million a decade later. This represents around 10% of Emirates’ total annual passenger load, with more passengers coming from neighboring countries on the subcontinent. Millions of Indians also live in the United Arab Emirates and form a vital part of its workforce.
Then came the pandemic and the fierce epidemic that is now raging across India. Infections there have been on the rise since February, fueled by variants and by the government allowing massive crowds to attend religious festivals and political rallies. As of Saturday alone, India reported more than 400,000 new cases and more than 4,000 deaths. Since the start of the pandemic, India has reported 21.8 million cases and nearly 240,000 deaths, although experts say even those numbers are likely underestimated.
The United Arab Emirates banned passenger flights to India at the end of April, although cargo flights have continued and passenger planes are returning with their seats now empty. Emirates had previously shipped masks, gloves and other protective gear, as well as diffusers, as oxygen remains insufficient for those short of breath to breathe in the throes of the virus, Sultan said.
As the Indian diaspora tries to send more aid, Sultan said the airline will assess whether to expand the program to also include shipments from outside Dubai. Working with groups already in Dubai ensures they have the right documents and contacts to ensure that the most vital help gets there first, he said.
“In phases two and three, we will look at a range of opportunities for people to donate if they wish, where we can provide a capacity for these type of donations and transfer them to India,” Sultan said.
It all comes as air freight hit record levels after flights across the world halted when the pandemic first took hold. The International Air Transport Association, an aviation trade organization, said in March it saw the highest levels of demand on record as the global economy slowly began to recover.
Per pound, worldwide air freight costs have increased by about 75%, according to data provider WorldACM. It’s as if airlines like Emirates still have giant jets sitting on the tarmacs, waiting for demand and international restrictions to be lifted to restart the routes. Dozens of Emirates double-decker Airbus A380s were parked at Al Maktoum International Airport, located near Dubai World Central.
Robert Blanchard, who is overseeing the emergency operation in Dubai on behalf of the WHO, praised Emirates for offering free cargo flights. Its warehouse continues to juggle aid for the coronavirus while shipping supplies for the cholera and Ebola outbreaks with just eight employees. He warned that while countries in the West and the United Arab Emirates enjoyed faster access to vaccines, what India is facing serves as a warning to the rest of the world.
“There is a long way to go before we get back to normal,” Blanchard said. “And while the vaccines show great promise, what we are seeing is that the quantities available and the rate of distribution are simply not sufficient to cope with the pandemic.”