DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Dubai’s long-haul carrier Emirates will begin shipping aid for free into India to help fight a crushing outbreak of the coronavirus, the airline said Sunday.
The offer by Emirates, which has some 95 flights weekly to nine cities, comes as air freight costs have skyrocketed. That’s as air cargo demand has risen to its highest recorded level ever amid the pandemic, which has seen carriers including Emirates fly cargo in otherwise-empty passenger seats.
Nabil Sultan, the divisional senior vice president for Emirates SkyCargo, said the initial priority would be shipping aid out of Dubai, rather than elsewhere from its network. He acknowledged airfreight costs were high, but said the priority remained getting help to India.
“At the moment, cost is not the issue,” Sultan told journalists. “India is going through a major crisis.”
The first shipment, including tents to expand hospital capacity and other gear, is being prepared to be shipped later this week, Sultan said.
Since the founding of the long-haul carrier in 1985, Emirates has flown to India. The airline over time grew its network into flying into nine destinations across the country.
As India’s economic fortunes have grown, so too have Emirates as a key link in East-West flights from its hub at Dubai International Airport, long the world’s busiest for international travel. Passenger numbers from India for Emirates, just under 3 million in 2008, grew to 5.5 million a decade later. Millions of Indians live in the United Arab Emirates and comprise a key part of its labor force.
Then came the pandemic and the fierce outbreak now burning through India. Infections have surged there since February, fueled by variants and the government’s permission for massive crowds to attend religious festivals and political rallies. On Saturday alone, India reported over 400,000 new cases and more than 4,000 deaths. Since the pandemic began, India has reported 21.8 million cases and nearly 240,000 deaths, though experts say even those figures likely are undercounts.
The UAE banned in-bound passenger flights from India in late April, though cargo flights continued and passenger planes return with their seats now empty.
All this comes as air cargo has reached record levels after flights around 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 ever as the world’s economy slowly began to pick up.
Per pound, costs for airfreight worldwide are up by some 75%, according to data provider WorldACM.