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Air crisis: Limited European flights given go-ahead

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

A limited number of airports across Europe have re-opened as the global mail and express industry continues with contingency plans.

On Tuesday, some flights across northern Europe were able to take-off after five days of inactivity.

According to the BBC, the Eurocontrol air traffic agency says it expects about half of flights over Europe to go ahead on Tuesday.

Despite many planes being remained grounded, a limited number of flights have been departing from Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt.

Mail and express companies across the world have been implementing costly contingency plans after the Icelandic volcano eruption continues to leave many planes grounded.

Collectively, the occurrence will cost the industry millions as stocked planes remain stuck on runways, whilst a backlog of international-bound mail and parcels sit in sorting offices.

TNT was one of the first companies to put contingency plans into practice after it switched to road transport throughout Europe. The organisation said that this would lead to delays, incurring higher delivery costs in the process.

TNT’s European air operations run from Liege, Belgium, which closed on Thursday evening (15 April) and re-opened on Tuesday afternoon (20 April).

On Tuesday morning, Post&Parcel spoke with TNT’s senior media officer Cyrille Gibot, who said planes were loaded and crews were ready, as the Dutch company waited for the all clear, including one 747 due to fly to Shanghai.

Gibot said that TNT is lucky to have such a strong European road network, covering 39 countries, which has allowed a majority of freight volumes to be moved by truck.

When we asked how much TNT could lose from the chaos, Gibot said “it’s difficult to say at present”.

Gibot told Post&Parcel: “We always have ‘plan b’ in case of emergencies, and we will try to serve our customers through our road network. On Thursday, a plane due in Liege from Hong Kong was diverted to Frankfurt, and the packages have been trucked to Liege.”

DHL said it is “monitoring the situation closely and will process shipments in the affected regions as swiftly as possible, using the transport modes that are available”.

The express company said that contingency plans include the set-up of an “ad-hoc and decentralised express network, in the event of a continued closure of Leipzig airport”.

DHL said that aircraft will be diverted to other DHL hubs and gateways in Europe and the ground network adjusted accordingly to ensure that shipments are delivered at the earliest possible point in time.

At 1pm on Monday, DHL gave Post&Parcel a service update: “By temporarily expanding its road network DHL Express UK has been able to maintain, in most cases, a next-day delivery service for UK mainland businesses to major European business destinations in northern France (including Paris), the Netherlands, Belgium and north-west Germany, and is working hard on increasing this.”

Also in the UK, Royal Mail said that the closure of airspace in parts of Europe is continuing to affect transport of mail by air. As well as international mail being delayed, domestic letters and parcels usually sent by air will be delayed, despite “robust contingency plans” being put in place using alternative road and rail networks. Mail leaving the UK for parts of northern Europe is being transferred to road services where possible.

Furthermore, a Swiss Post spokesman said: “At present, air transport of postal consignments is thus not possible or only to a very limited degree. Swiss Post is undertaking all within its powers to reduce the relating negative effects on customers to the minimum. Consignments to and from Switzerland are carried by road transport wherever possible. Considerable delays of international mail delivery must be taken into account, however.”

The volcanic ash has had a knock-on effect in the US. On Sunday, UPS said it has begun flying a limited service to Turkey, where it will be sent via road to destinations across Europe. UPS announced that the deliveries could be at least three days late.

FedEx Express said on Monday that it had begun limited flying to airports in Southern Europe in an effort to move freight that is currently in its system.

The company is focused on prioritising freight on a “first in/first out” basis and indicated it will not accept deferred international freight at this time given the fluid nature of the movement of the volcanic ash until major airports are opened.

A spokesman said: “FedEx is asking those customers who have shipments requiring special attention; i.e. temperature control, dry ice or perishables hold their shipments until the company is able to resume its normal flight schedule.

“FedEx is monitoring this situation closely and positioning its operations to resume normal flight schedules when airports open and it is safe to fly. The company is utilising trucking for its intra-Europe service but customers should expect delays in shipments.”

The widespread impact of the ash cloud has been evident in Asia, after SingPost told Post&Parcel that European postal services have been disrupted. International air mail services, including registered articles and parcel items from Singapore to Europe and vice versa are also subject to delay, a spokesman said.

SingPost said it is monitoring the situation closely and advised members of the public to defer mailing to European countries for the meantime. For items already in the custody of SingPost, the operator said it will resume the deliveries as soon as the major airports in Europe open. Meanwhile, SingPost is also exploring alternatives in the event that the airport closures are extended.

More to follow…

Source: Chris Dolan, Post&Parcel

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