Carriers resume Japanese schedules, deliver aid
Worldwide carriers operating in Japan have resumed adjusted schedules after a massive earthquake, which ripped through the country on March 11, forced the temporary closure of the country’s major airports, according to the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines. Currently, these airlines are focusing on humanitarian efforts and other recovery activities at a time when the stability of Japan’s nuclear power supply and the very real threat of radiation is of growing concern.
“Airlines have been focused on clearing the backlog of disrupted passengers. Domestic flights are now operating according to the normal schedules,” Andrew Herdman, director general of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines, said in a statement. “Air cargo services are operating normally. Several carriers have also been involved in special humanitarian relief efforts, bringing international supplies and resources to Japan.”
In the hours after the earthquake, Cathay Pacific diverted or cancelled five flights that were scheduled to arrive in Narita International Airport. The carrier's cargo operations were back on track by the morning of March 12. American Airlines, which just announced its daily service from New York JFK to Tokyo Haneda, initially cancelled all Japan trans-pacific flights. American’s Haneda flights were operating normally as of March 14, but a cargo embargo remained in place on flights to Tokyo Narita until March 16.
After suspending service during the initial cleanup period, UPS resumed pick-up and delivery activities in Eastern Japan. The service suspension still applies to Northern Japan. According to the U.S. Postal Service, Japan’s postal administration is functioning with delays and is still accepting all types of international mail.
Boeing, UPS, Delta and United Continental Holdings are among the companies that have stepped forward in recent days with aid commitments. Many of these companies employ workers in the country; Continental has more than 1,000 workers in Japan, and Boeing has 200 employees.
United Continental is providing bonus miles to passengers who contribute to the Red Cross and is also transporting health workers and supplies to the country. Most of Continental’s flights to Japan are operating normally, a spokesperson said. The UPS Foundation’s pledged donation of $1 million includes in-kind transportation of emergency supplies, financial support and the donation of trained logistics personnel. Boeing is collecting $2 million from The Boeing Company Charitable Trust and contributions from its own employees for the Red Cross. Delta is committing $1 million in aid.
"Japan is a core part of our global network, and we are committed to finding ways to help those in need following last week's devastating earthquake," Vinay Dube, Delta’s senior vice president, Asia-Pacific, said in a statement. "Delta's 1,200 employees in Japan … are rallying together to do what we can to make a difference and we encourage our customers to join us by donating money or miles to our dedicated charities."
Many carriers and relief organizations are pursuing humanitarian missions in Japan on top of services being provided to displaced citizens in the Middle East. According to a spokesman from Air Partner, the carrier has arranged more than 60 flights and has evacuated more than 12,000 people from the Middle East since the beginning of February. Its aid services in Japan are ongoing.
"In immediate response to the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan over the weekend, Air Partner continued its humanitarian outreach by organizing the Boeing 747 flight that carried 59 fire service search and rescue specialists, two rescue dogs and a medical support team along with 11 tonnes of specialist rescue equipment to the stricken nation," the spokesman said.
While air services appear to be returning to normal, additional problems are arising. According to the International Air Transport Association, significant fuel resources have been damaged and supplies are dwindling. The organization is working with carriers to distribute fuel in the most efficient way possible and is starting to outline a rationing procedure should that become necessary. Governments around the globe are placing new regulatory restrictions on flights operating in Japan, and IATA is keeping tabs on the new guidelines.
“The combination of crises and issues facing Japan is truly unprecedented. For aviation, global standards and coordinated efforts will provide the needed solutions as we move through this difficult time. IATA stands ready to assist in any way possible to ensure continued safe and efficient air transport," IATA's director general and CEO Giovanni Bisignani said in a statement.
It is too early, according to IATA, to measure the economic impact of the disaster, but it will most likely be significant. The organization's most recent figures point to a $62.5 billion Japanese aviation industry that accounts for more than 6 percent of worldwide scheduled traffic.
A massive humanitarian effort is still underway in what is a very fluid disaster situation. Though air cargo is functioning, the Japanese supply chain has been thoroughly disrupted. Herdman warns that further air delays are possible.
"Looking ahead, we can expect some short term disruption to normal patterns of travel demand to and from Japan,” Herdman said. “Airlines will continue to closely monitor the situation and make appropriate adjustments as necessary.”