‘Unprecedented’ UK cargo charter enquiries as border remains closed

By Damian Brett

Charter broker Air Charter Service (ACS) is reporting an “unprecedented” number of enquiries for cargo flights as France keeps its border with the UK closed.

France closed its border with the UK to trade and travel on Sunday night following the emergence of a new Covid-19 variant.

Politicians are currently in talks over plans to reopen the border but in the meantime up to 1,500 trucks are stuck in Kent and supply chains are facing disruption.

More than 40 countries have now banned arrivals from the UK, affecting passenger services.

ACS commercial director Justin Lancaster said that its phones have been “ringing off the hook”.

By late yesterday afternoon ACS had received requests for information on more than 800 flights between the UK and Europe.

Lancaster said that many of these were from companies that are not that experienced in using charter services and were finding out information on pricing.

Others were from customers that had already set up charter programmes ready for Brexit on January 1.

“There have been quite a few bookings but a lot of them are assessing how they will deal with this and building a plan b,” said Lancaster.

“We have over 10 programmes booked, which could vary from two flights to 20 flights, it depends which industry they are in.

“The automotive industry was probably the first sector calling up. They are used to this and know how chartering works. Then you have pharma, fresh produce, machinery, fish – there are lots of sectors that you wouldn’t normally associate with air charter that have been getting in touch.

“It is unprecedented, I can’t think of when this would have happened before so a lot of them are assessing what is going to happen.”

Lancaster said that there isn’t an infinite number of cargo aircraft available for the 10-15 tonne loads that customers have been requesting and prices could quickly rise.

Types of aircraft that would likely be in demand are Metroes up to AN-12s and B737s.

However, ACS is keeping in close contact with its commercial jets division as that side of the business has access to aircraft that could potentially be utilised to carry cargo.

He added that the end of the year had been busier than normal for the UK’s air cargo charter sector as companies had been preparing for some level of disruption as a result of changes to customs procedures when the UK leaves the European Union.

Supply chains have also come under pressure from disruption at container ports, which has seen an increase in the number of charters between the Asia and Europe and the transpacific.

Meanwhile, overall cargo capacity remains limited due to the reduction of bellyhold operations and urgent PPE shipments continue to require transportation.

“Normally, half way through December things tail off, but there has been no let up,” Lancaster said. “This year we thought it would be busy up to Christmas and then after Christmas people would start preparing for Brexit but with this it has just carried on – an unprecedented number of enquiries. In my time I haven’t seen anything like this.”

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