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March 30, 2020 10:00 AM, EDT

Urgent Demand for Medical Equipment Is Making Air Cargo Fees ‘Absolutely Crazy’

A worker unloads boxes of protective masks from a plane at Frankfurt Airport in Germany on March 25.A worker unloads boxes of protective masks from a plane at Frankfurt Airport in Germany on March 25. (Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)

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Urgent demand for medical equipment to fight the coronavirus has sent the cost of chartering aircraft skyrocketing and turned a typically humdrum process into an ultra-competitive auction.

“Chartered prices have been pushed up from less than $300,000 four to six weeks back to $600,000 to $800,000 in the last few days,” Anthony Lau, chairman and founder of logistics company Pacific Air (HK) Ltd., said in an interview March 27. “It is absolutely crazy.”

Usually, it would cost $300,000 to charter a Boeing Co. 747 or 777 from Hong Kong to Europe in nonpeak season, Lau said.

“The price is changing by the hour,” he said. “We have never, ever experienced this.”

An unprecedented collapse in passenger demand is prompting airlines to use their fleets to transport more cargo, including medicines, as the coronavirus pandemic causes major disruptions to supply chains and exacts a heavy toll on the world. Infections globally have climbed above 720,000 and about 34,000 people have died from the virus.

The likes of Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., Korean Air Lines Co. and American Airlines Group Inc. are hauling a greater amount of goods in the bellies of their passenger planes to keep up with demand. Cargo rates have risen over 10% in recent weeks.

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