Sustainability and air freight transportation: Lessons from the global pandemic

John R. Bartle, Rebecca K. Lutte, Deniz Zeynep Leuenberger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


The COVID-19 crisis has transformed the delivery of services and goods by public, private, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), with one of the largest impacts being in air transport systems. This paper focuses on related opportunities and challenges within air freight transport management, exploring sustainability in light of recent, heavy human and economic costs across the world. There is, in the resulting process of recovery, the potential to create changes in the airline industry and across a number of private and public partnerships that will improve long-term environmental, social, and economic sustainability and stability. This paper also describes the impact of the current environment on air cargo operations to include the role of significantly reduced airline schedules on overall air cargo capacity. It considers the potential role of government in providing the infrastructure for collaboration between sectors, addressing the goals of sustainability, efficiency, effectiveness, and citizen responsiveness. NGOs provide a voice for community groups in ways that governments and corporations may not. Efficient markets link producers at various stages to consumers through global and local supply chains. Integrating key concepts from sustainable development and logistics, this paper explores short-run and long-run planning required by each of the three sectors to tackle the immediate shortfalls in global transportation by air. It then investigates urgent but longer-term environmental issues tied to air transport, such as global climate change, air pollution, and the nonrenewable nature of fossil fuels. Many of the infrastructural changes in the airline industry may offer solutions across public administration. With the tremendous impact of air transport on a number of other goods and services, carefully constructed solutions may have sustainability benefits across industries. As the tragedies of COVID-19 inevitably shake the foundations of organizational systems in all three sectors, this paper offers recommendations for advancing opportunities for a more efficient freight supply industry that minimize negative impacts through sustainable development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3738
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 1 2021


  • Air cargo
  • Air transport
  • Airlines
  • Aviation
  • COVID-19
  • Sustainability
  • Sustainable development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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