“If People Aren’t Supposed to Travel, Why are Airports Open?”

Airports have two primary roles at this time: to be open for flights that transport essential personnel and to accommodate cargo flights transporting critical goods. “Since the travel restrictions went into place, our passenger volume is down about 80-90 percent over last year, but our cargo operations have increased 12.9 percent for the year,” said Stephanie Wear, PHL’s Director of Air Service Development and Cargo Services. “By being open for cargo flights, we’re helping to get much needed medical supplies and pharmaceuticals to those on the frontline.”

As the demand for passenger travel has decreased, many airlines have reconfigured passenger aircraft to carry freight and added cargo-only flights to their schedule. For example, British Airways has not had passenger flights at PHL since March, but the carrier has been averaging about one cargo flight per week to the Airport since that time.  

In May, American Airlines expanded its cargo schedule to 140 weekly cargo flights from the U.S. to 15 cities in Asia Pacific, Europe and the Caribbean. At PHL, American added twice weekly flights to San Juan and once a week trips to Rome and Zurich. American’s 25,000 square foot. temperature-controlled cargo facility makes PHL a key hub for pharmaceutical companies, connecting critical medicines and temperature-sensitive shipments to where they are needed most.

“For the first time since 1984, American is operating cargo-only flights to keep the Philadelphia region moving — transporting needed medicine and personal protective equipment, life-saving medical equipment and time-sensitive organ transplants,” said Brian Cooley, General Manager of Cargo Services for American Airlines in Philadelphia. 

The increase in PHL’s cargo operations has also brought diverse carriers to the Airport and Atlantic Aviation. In early April, Atlantic accommodated a Titan Airlines charter carrying medical supplies and pharmaceuticals to Italy. Over the past several weeks, Portugal-based Hi Fly made several flights between PHL and China, transporting masks from China to Philadelphia. “Not only have the freight operations been good for PHL, but they’ve also helped generate income for other companies that have been affected by reduced passenger travel,” said Wear. “The Hi Fly crew members stayed at the Airport Marriott and ordered food from Chickie’s and Pete’s.” 

While the majority of goods that have been imported and exported through PHL have been critical medical equipment and pharmaceuticals, there have been some interesting shipments, too, including helicopter parts and blades, metal footings, flavorings and a variety food stuffs, cable equipment, pumps and parts and accessories for an amusement park carousel. 

“Currently PHL only captures a small portion of our region’s cargo traffic,” said Wear. “But our location is perfect for handling shipments destined for or coming from cities all over the world. We’re hoping to use our location to capitalize on the booming cargo industry, which will in turn contribute to the Airport’s economic impact on the city and our region at a time when it is needed more than ever.”   


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Heather Redfern
Public Affairs Manager
Shawn Hawes
Public Information Officer

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