Don’t ban cargo flights from India

Cargo is a lifeline at a time when passengers are not allowed to travel, thus allowing it is beneficial to the economy

by AFIQ AZIZ / graphic by MZUKRI MOHAMAD

MALAYSIA Aviation Group (MAG) is appealing to the government for cargo flights to and from India to be maintained because the risk of importing a new variant of the Covid-19 is low.

MAG group CEO Captain Izham Ismail said there is little risk of international transmission of Covid-19 through freight, but the economic benefits are huge.

The government has officially banned passengers travelling from India following the recent spike of Covid-19 infections and the discovery of a highly contagious variant in the country.

At the moment, there was no ban on freighter flights.

Izham said Malaysia Airlines Bhd (MAB), a subsidiary of MAG, has maintained the strictest measures to reduce the risk of Covid transmission on all its flights including freighters since the pandemic began.

“The measures have been in place since last year. We follow safety protocols stringently, even on cargo,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) yesterday.

Malaysia has imposed a temporary ban on flights to and from India since April 28, mainly to prevent the spread of a new Indian variant of the virus.

However, since the ban, the new B.1.617 variant was detected in an incoming Indian national at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) on Sunday.

Plane spotters also noted that publicly available data showed flights from India are still landing at KLIA, rousing worry on social media including allegations that MAB is continuing to bring passengers from the country.

Transport Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong issued an official statement yesterday denying the claim amid public concern. He clarified the planes were carrying cargo and not passengers.

Izham said there is no reason for the government to stop cargo flights, especially since cargo is a lifeline at a time when passengers are not allowed to travel.

“If we stop airfreight, it will not only impact MAB or the industry, it will impact the country’s economy as a whole. The goods we carry are meant for businesses in Malaysia,” Izham said.

Malaysia is India’s largest trading partner in Asean, after Indonesia and Singapore.

Among the cargo carried from India comprise pharmaceutical goods, medical supplies, mobile phones, electrical components and courier packages. Currently, MAB has an average of 10 flights per week to and from India, said Izham.

Former aviation regulator Dr Nungsari Ahmad Radhi said stopping airfreight traffic on Covid-19 concerns would make it worse for the airline industry, including airports and businesses that depend on it.

“We allow cargo ships and goods by road; air transport should be no different. Otherwise, everything will stop as supply chain will all be broken,” he told TMR.

Selangor public health executive councillor Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud said it has been accepted that the transmission risk of Covid-19 is low for cargo freight, but the federal government has the responsibility to ensure the highest standard of safety for airline workers.

“The federal government’s responsibility is to ensure the safety of workers involved in cargo from India and to limit the interaction of people between the two countries during shipment and transfers.

“On top of this, the government must put stringent standard operating procedures (SOPs) and screening at our international arrival entrance,” she told TMR.

MAB lodged a police report on two Facebook users who accused it of bringing in passengers from India.

“MAB wishes to reiterate that all flights deployed by the airline are subject to approval by relevant authorities in respective countries and with strict adherence to safety and health SOPs,” the airline said.

“The flights mounted during the period of May 1-3, 2021, from India were full cargo flights utilising MAB’s passenger-to-cargo aircraft carrying freight comprising pharmaceutical goods, medical supplies, mobile phones, electrical components and courier packages.

“The flight did not carry any passengers other than the flight crew who remained on board during transit. As a further precaution, the airline also did not allow any ground maintenance personnel in India to enter its aircraft,” it said.

“Since the country imposed the temporary ban on entry of Indian nationals into Malaysia on April 28, the airline has cancelled all its scheduled passenger flights to/from India to comply with the ruling,” it added.