Russia’s Volga-Dnepr Group has operated sterilised charter flights to China to deliver masks, sanitiser gels, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

While the Russian Federal Air Transport Agency has decided to temporarily limit passenger air traffic between Russia and China, there are no current restrictions to cargo airlines and Volga-Dnepr Group said it has implemented a number of preventive measures to ensure the safety of personnel, cargo, and aircraft.

Still, the impact of the coronavirus on the airfreight sector has caused operational changes at Volga-Dnepr Group subsidiary AirBridgeCargo Airlines (ABC). As from February 4, ABC has been operating a reduced schedule to China.

Employees of the Volga-Dnepr medical and flight departments, meanwhile, have held discussions with the World Health Organization (WHO), Rospotrebnadzor (Russia’s federal service for surveillance on consumer rights protection and human wellbeing), and other entities on methods for personnel protection, handling, and disinfection of aircraft and cargo.

The group added that it is considering the introduction of a ‘clean charter’ service, which will ensure the secure transportation of cargo during difficult epidemiological conditions.

While the impact of the coronavirus on the airfreight industry is still uncertain, Air Charter Service (ACS) said that it has been inundated with requests for charters relating to the travel disruption caused by the outbreak.

Justin Lancaster, ACS’s commercial director, said: “Since the outbreak our offices around the world have been arranging flights on local charter aircraft as the world deals with the travel disruption and overall cut to capacity to the region. We have flown everything from four passengers on a private jet, to hundreds on larger aircraft, to 100 tonnes of surgical masks – it has been all systems go since the epidemic was first reported.

“We have also flown various relief cargo into the region, including, protective overalls, medical gloves and millions of surgical masks.”

According to Lancaster, there have been various challenges in booking the flights, including clients that are not willing to put their cargo on aircraft that have recently been to the region. “Perhaps our biggest challenge is ensuring that all government and medical advice is followed to prevent spreading infection. This week we had to cancel four flights due to changes in regulations in certain countries.”

Also seeing an increase in coronavirus-related charters is Air Partner. The company recently arranged the evacuation of over 300 UK and EU nationals from Wuhan, and the transportation of 407 boxes of medical supplies from Madrid.

Mark Briffa, ceo at Air Partner, commented: "The coronavirus outbreak has been an extremely difficult time for everyone involved and we are very pleased to have safely repatriated a large number of British and EU nationals on behalf of the UK government.

“The circumstances were challenging, the deadlines tight and difficult permissions were required but we were able to execute the evacuation on account of the experience and dedication of our combined Air Partner team, our close working relationship with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), and the professionalism and flexibility of our partner airline operator.”