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Friday, 1 May 2020
Diversity born of adversity: How mail routes are changing in the COVID-19 era
01.05.2020 - “COVID-19 has been disastrous for the industry, but it has also led to fresh innovations and a new spirit of cooperation among postal operators. Everyone recognizes we are in this together,” said Adan Noor, the Universal Postal Union's Supply Chain Coordinator.
As the world locked down and passenger airplanes were grounded, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Universal Postal Union’s Supply Chain Team came up with a plan to help keep the mail moving.
Housed within the UN specialized agency’s Directorate of Postal Operations (DOP), the Supply Chain Team is responsible for working alongside postal operators to make sure mail circulating around the international postal sector keeps moving. The team assists postal operators on administrative matters, sources legal advice and promotes different forms of transport.
Although over 90 percent of postal operators rely on passenger planes to carry their mail, there are a number of other ways of moving the thousands of tons of post that regularly crisscross the world. Road transport is one such method, and there are maritime routes, particularly for islands. Train transport is also a possibility.
The small group of experts working on supply chain issues follows the Treaty of Bern setting out postal relations between the organization’s 192 member countries. UPU does not offer proscriptions, but ideas, as well as advice on suitable partnerships. “We´re not there to tell people how to act. There is no need. Posts are staffed with experienced experts. Our goal is to offer an international perspective, a legal framework, best practices and to encourage cooperation,” says Jan Bojnansky, UPU’s Transport Programme Manager.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread, UPU created an Operational Continuity Unit to oversee daily operational responses to the virus. Led by the Director of Postal Operations, Abdelilah Bousseta, the OCU quickly introduced a series of actions designed to support postal operators. “We asked UPU’s Supply Chain Team to reach out to postal operators and their supply chain partners and to explore new ways of making sure international mail deliveries continued,” said Bousseta.
On 26 March, UPU contacted postal operators inviting them to contact their surface cargo providers, and to share any information on available transport capacity, including rail, sea and road. The message followed other communications bringing postal operators together and to uphold the keystone Universal Service Obligation or USO seeking to provide everyone on this planet with post.
The results of the discussions created a slew of innovations and new methods of transport over land, sea and air. In partnership with the International Air Transport Association (IATA), UPU has encouraged governments to fast track procedures and relax restrictions to keep air cargo supply lines, including the mail transport, open in the wake of widespread passenger flight cancellations. “We therefore fully support IATA’s campaign asking governments to ease up on red-tape for cargo carriers and are working to get our members on board with the initiative,” said Bousseta.
The call for greater flexibility and new partnerships had an impact. Vietnam Post entered into agreements with cargo operators and private companies. The postal operator also sought approvals for the new approaches from Viet Nam’s Civil Aviation Authority and worked together with Viet Nam airlines.
These actions led, for the first time in Viet Nam’s history, to the transportation of Vietnam Post’s mail in the passenger cabin of a Viet Nam airlines’ flight from Hanoi to Ho Chi Min. There are now plans for the postal operator to extend these innovative efforts to international flights, and by doing so, helping to ensure the integrity of the international postal network.
On 12 April, the world’s first mail only train arrived in Vilnius, Lithuania, carrying mail and two containers of medical supplies. Each train carries nearly 300 tons of mail and are the result of cooperation between China Post, Lithuania Post, Polish Post and railway operators. Around 2,000 tons of mail is slated for rail transport from China in the next two months.
Maritime routes have also not been forgotten. China Post is currently involved in shipping international mail by fast boat in cooperation with the international sea-freight company Maersk. The postal operator has conducted fast boat operations to the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, and South Korea, among others. This route has delivered over 2,000 tons of mail at the time of writing. Thailand is also delivering mail to Los Angeles Harbor, United States, which should arrive in mid-May. Post Danemark is now delivering mail by sea to the Nordic island country cut off from mail services due to flight cancellations. Other countries considering using sea routes for mail delivery include Brazil and New Zealand, and the number is growing.
Bousseta believes that the creativity shown by the postal operators and their determination to keep the mail flowing is a sign of the industry’s resilience as well as its ability to work in partnership. “The UPU has always encouraged cooperation and it is a positive sign for the future,” he adds.