Supply chain spotlight: Ukraine crisis adds to heavylift constraints

By Brandon Fried

In his latest Air Cargo News column, Brandon Fried, executive director of the US Airforwarders Association, looks at how the Ukraine crisis will impact the air cargo industry.

The Ukraine crisis continues to upend the lives of 44m citizens, bringing unspeakable horror as the rest of the free world looks on with shock and disbelief.

If the past weeks predict the future, the situation will have enormous implications for the rest of Europe, the global economy, and even the freight transportation industry.

Forwarders and their air cargo customers are already feeling the pinch as the war is making constrained airfreight capacity even worse.

For example, the crisis grounded Russian air carrier AirBridgeCargo’s 17 747 freighters and its 777.

The carrier is a significant player in transporting goods from Asia to Europe through its Russian cargo hubs and is no longer an option for western shippers. Larger planes, including the Antonov 124, are also grounded, severely constricting oversize cargo capacity.

One of the first and most visible casualties of the war was the world’s largest plane, the Antonov AN -225, recently destroyed in the fighting.

Known as the “Mriya,” the one of its kind, six-engine aircraft could haul over 200 tons and was a frequent visitor to many cities worldwide, including in the United States. In addition, several forwarders routinely chartered the giant plane to move oversized cargo.

After some initial struggles, the pandemic brought significant prosperity to most freight forwarders and their transportation partners, who have done a noble job in getting essential goods where needed throughout the past two years.

However, as Covid’s impact softens, the need for logistical expertise is now shifting away from a natural crisis to a manufactured tragedy. 

There is little most of us can do but trust skilled politicians hopefully to negotiate and steer the world clear of global conflict successfully.

Meanwhile, the short-term future for Ukraine is bleak and surrounding nations accommodating its refugees will need vital assistance in getting medical supplies, food, and other essential material to these countries as soon as possible.

Several freight forwarders, partnering with airlines and other transportation providers, are already assisting groups such as Airlink and others by donating time, resources, capacity, and of course, money to help those displaced by the Ukraine crisis.

Yet, despite these efforts, more needs to be done, and our industry can provide the knight on a white horse so urgently needed.

The scarce air capacity continues to be a significant but not impossible challenge for the freight industry that shows no sign of improving soon.

The demise of the only AN-225 is a tragic development because of its unique design and its role in moving oversized cargo.

But the primary loss is that of an icon demonstrating what our industry can do in providing essential transportation for even the most oversized item in support of global commerce.

Since nature abhors a vacuum, future commercial demand will likely result in rebuilding a new, perhaps improved plane. Unfortunately, lives lost in the Ukraine conflict cannot, so our help is needed now.

VDG confirms suspension of AirBridgeCargo and Atran operations

Antonov AN-225 damaged beyond repair

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