UK freight transporters say even if the unprecedented shutdown of European airspace were to end tomorrow, it would take two weeks to clear the backlog of air cargo destined for Britain.
Northern Europe has been thrown into chaos since last Thursday when blanket air travel bans began to be progressively imposed across the continent – although latest news from the UK National Air Traffic Services indicates a gradual opening of flights from Scotland.
“Even if British airspace opened up immediately, it would take a fortnight to clear the backlog of air freight destined for the UK, so we already face an unprecedented logistical challenge,” said Freight Transport Association (FTA) head of global supply chain policy Christopher Snelling.
“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.”
The extraordinary closure of UK airspace is also taking its toll on other sectors, with the major parcel carriers already turning to road transport as an alternative for domestic and European deliveries.
While the volume of goods transported by air is relatively small, air-freighted goods account for around a quarter of the value of goods moved in and out of the UK.
The FTA adds while freight forwarders are “doing their utmost” to maintain service levels, the airspace shutdown will inevitably have a detrimental effect on businesses and consumers.