Wednesday 26th Oct 2016 - Logistics Manager

BIFA warns on air cargo backlog


The backlog of air cargo resulting from the suspension of flights over the past few days is likely to take some considerable time, not days, to clear, the British International Freight Association has warned.  

Some flights are resuming as the threat from the dust cloud created by the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland starts to recede.

On MOnday night, the CAA, in line with new guidance from the International Civil Aviation Organisation decided flights above the ash cloud would be permitted in the UK opening the way for some aircraft movements above 20,000ft in UK airspace.

Lufthansa said it would operate all long-haul flights on Tuesday as well as some intra-European and domestic flights.

British Airways was hoping to operate some long haul flights on Tuesday but has now cancelled all flights.

With many airline cargo sheds and ground handling agents not accepting freight, BIFA has been advising its members to encourage customers to retain cargo in their own premises until there is some real clarity regarding when flights are likely to resume.

Peter Quantrill, BIFA director general said: “We have to be realistic. By volume, international trade in goods relies more heavily on road, rail and seafreight than it does on airfreight. However, by value airfreight is responsible for around a quarter of international trade in goods and the disruption has caused real problems for those trading perishable goods, including food and flowers, vital pharmaceuticals, important medicines, electronic components and essential spare parts which depend on air freight.

“The backlog is likely to take some considerable time, not days, to clear. After all, airfreight capacity was already quite tight on certain routes into and from the UK before last Thursday anyway.”

“Airfreight capacity was already quite tight on certain routes into and from the UK before last Thursday anyway.”


Freight forwarders have been warning that air cargo rates will rise following the disruption.

Panalpina has warned customers that as soon as flight operations are back to normal, “additional capacity at higher cost will be required to clear backlog. Consequently airlines are implementing a rate increase with immediate effect and until further notice. Although Panalpina is working on optimising procurement in the customers’ interest, the present situation leaves no alternative but to pass on this rate increase.”

Kuehne + Nagel also warned customers: “The likely consequence could be a further increase in freight costs, in a market already short on capacity.”


Fresh fruit and flowers have been particularly affected by the disruption to air cargo operations.

Christopher Snelling, The Freight Transport Association’s head of global supply chain policy, said: “With imports of some fruit and vegetables grounded, certain fresh produce, such as exotic fruits and fresh flowers, are starting to become noticeable by their absence from our supermarket shelves. 

However, Tesco has been bringing in produce from Africa via Spain, according to chief executive Sir Terry Leahy.

He told the BBC that produce, including fruit and flowers, was being moved from Kenya to a hub in Spain, and being brought into the UK by lorry.