The end of the article gives more detail into why the NRT stopovers have been required. This has always been a crew issue. There have been rumors of the screening and quarantine requirements being eased soon, but until that happens you’ll continue to see the 1-stops.
The end of the article does have some truth but also the authors assumptions. Take for instance these statements where the author asserted their opinion which is based on facts but not all the facts.
"Carriers may give cargo capacity in tonnage, but this is less relevant since most in-demand cargo is volumetric and exceeds volume capacity before weight capacity." https://www.forbes.com/sites/willhorton ... 6b24b61121
For cargo charter flights
it is absolutely true you will run out of space before you run out of weight.
The author then proceeds to make these next few statements;
"Unlike passengers, cargo is less discerning about making stops en route. Trans-Pacific cargo flights often stop in Anchorage for re-fuelling in order to maximize cargo payload and minimize weight allocated for fuel.
But layover conditions, and not payload restrictions, may be driving United’s stopover routings.
Pilots are concerned about layovers in certain cities, where rules are strict and often changing. Quarantine regulations for international arrivals may mean pilots are not allowed to leave their hotel room until they depart the country."https://www.forbes.com/sites/willhorton ... 6b24b61121
The above statement the author is mixing facts with their opinion. United didn't just start operating cargo flights from China via NRT, the first batch of charter flights UA operated from China did in fact operate nonstop but as I stated earlier our load planners were forced to leave cargo behind to balance the aircraft. The statement that weight capacity is not an issue is correct, no cargo charter comes close to approaching MZFW or MTOG what the author fails to take into account is balance. So when the they state layover conditions are being driven by layover restrictions and not payload they are only focusing on one part which is the weight the second and equally as important is the balance. One does not work without the other you can't be under MZFW or MTOG and be out of balance. Weight and balance are twins, one can't function without the other.
Also China isn't the only country with strict rules on crews flying into their country. In fact in Japan (NRT) requires all crew members to remain in their hotel rooms until their departure, they are required to eat all meals in their hotel room (they can not leave their hotel room at all during their layover), and they are not to use any type of public transportation to/from the airport. The author has mixed facts with assumptions instead of doing real journalism and seeing if China is alone in their restrictions. China is not the only country with some type of strict strict guidelines and restrictions on airline flight crew members other countries include but are not limited to Australia, Hong Kong, Israel, Taiwan, Switzerland, Singapore, Argentina, and many others. If the author would have taken the time to read both China and Japans restrictions on flight crew member layovers they will see Japan's restriction is just as strict as China's on all inbound crew members. The main reason for these layovers has to do with the ability to balance the aircraft by reducing the amount of fuel required to fly nonstop from China to the U.S. Remember China shut down their entire country they just reopened many of their factories so a lot of the heavy cargo UA was shipping pre-COVID-19 is not there because factories were closed and I'm not sure how strong demand is in the U.S. for a lot of the electronics, clothes or other Chinese made products because our economy is still closed. Again medical supplies make up a lot of what we are shipping out of China they take up a lot of volume but don't have the weight needed to produce the necessary tail weight needed balance the aircraft when there is a high fuel load.