The air cargo industry’s response to Ukraine war

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has added another obstacle for air cargo-reliant supply chains, already pressured by climbing rates and limited capacity. Trade news portal, Supply Chain Dive, has been following the adjustments air cargo carriers have made to sustain operations as the invasion unfolds.

Airlines have adjusted their operations to minimise the war’s impact, leading many to cancel services and flights to Ukraine and Russia when the attack began.

The two countries are also home to freighter fleets that specialise in handling extra-large cargo, which is hard to find elsewhere.

Commercial flights have vanished from the skies of Ukraine and surrounding areas as carriers avoid the conflict’s airspace.

Rerouted flights and climbing fuel costs have resulted in higher surcharges for shippers and further flight cancellations as some services between Europe and Asia became economically unviable for carriers.

All this has happened during a period of already limited cargo space, as the COVID-19 pandemic grounded many aircraft due to plummeting passenger demand and lack of traveller sentiment.

Some air cargo carriers are still travelling freely through Russian airspace, including China Southern and Air China, but at least 11 of the world’s top 25 cargo airlines have made some sort of adjustment due to the war. Please see below a market update detailing the situation and action taken by many of the airlines operating in the cargo sector globally.

Where air cargo carriers stand on Russia

Company Operating status Fleet size
All Nippon Airways ANA has extended its suspension of some flights between Japan and Europe through to the 19th April 19, due to its operations not being able to overfly Russian territory under the current Ukraine situation. 293
American Airlines The airline will no longer fly over Russian airspace and has suspended ties with the country. 1,432
Antonov Airline The Ukraine-based airline had its AN-225 reportedly destroyed during an airfield invasion in February. On 3rd April, the company tweeted that the airline’s AN-225, AN-26 and AN-74 aircraft have been destroyed, while other aircraft and hangars have been damaged. No upcoming flights were listed on Flightradar24 as of Tuesday, April 5. 9
British Airways Flights to Moscow and the use of Russian airspace have been suspended. Longer flight times may occur due to reroutes. The airline does not operate in Ukraine and doesn’t use Ukrainian airspace. 277
Cargolux Introduced a war surcharge for cargo to and from Asia. 30
Cathay Pacific Airways Currently not flying through Russian airspace, according to Reuters. 238
Delta Air Lines Codeshare services operated with Aeroflot, Russia’s national airline, have been withdrawn. A spokesperson said that operational impact has been “minimal.” 1,165
DHL Inbound services and domestic operations in Russia and Belarus have been suspended until further notice. Offices and operations in Ukraine have been closed. 260
FedEx Express Service in Russia and Belarus is suspended until further notice. Locations in Ukraine are temporarily closed, and inbound and outbound services in the country are temporarily suspended. Surcharges increased for certain international shipments. 684
Finnair Finnair is avoiding Russian airspace on flights between Europe and Asia, and it has cancelled flights to Osaka and Hong Kong until the end of April. All flights to Russia have been cancelled until May 28. 84
Korean Air All cargo and passenger services to and from Moscow and Vladivostok, Russia, are suspended until the end of April. The suspension includes a cargo flight route with a stopover in Moscow. Due to reroutes, European and eastern North American routes are encountering lengthier flight times. 154
Lufthansa Lufthansa Cargo will no longer use Russian airspace, and passenger flights to Russia will be suspended. Lufthansa Cargo will fly around Russian airspace via a southern routing. 713
Nippon Cargo Airlines Suspended European flights due to route restrictions. The Japan-based airline said it was investigating routes that avoided Russian airspace. 8
Qatar Airways All flights to Ukraine are temporarily suspended. 244
Singapore Airlines All return services between Singapore and Moscow are suspended. 168
Turkish Airlines Flights to and from Ukraine have been cancelled. 372
United Airlines Russian airspace transit has been paused, and the airline has suspended interline agreements with Russian carriers. 1,344
UPS Service was temporarily suspended in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. Surcharges increased for some shipments to Europe. A spokesperson said that flight times “between Europe and Asia are taking slightly longer” as the company avoids restricted areas but doesn’t impact UPS’ service. 595
Virgin Atlantic Airways The airline will not operate any flights in Russian airspace until further notice. It has adjusted the flight paths of four India and Pakistan routes that typically fly over Russia, leading to longer flight times. 37
Volga-Dnepr Group All flights using Boeing aircraft have been suspended due to Western sanctions, according to a March 18 report from Reuters. 38
By Max Garland – Supply Chain Dive

Despite the challenges, our air freight team continue to find solutions for urgent and time-sensitive shipments, to every destination and from every origin, using a blend of scheduled, dedicated and chartered air cargo services. 

Sea/air offers significant cost savings on air freight, with accelerated transit from Asia, of just 12 days via Singapore from initial vessel departure, and 20 days through our Dubai hub, with typical savings of 70%.

We will continue to monitor the situation within the cargo aviation industry and will always provide options that are available on any routes into or out of the UK and European mainland. We have irreplaceable and advantageous partnerships with many carriers and access to charter operations to complement the scheduled operators. We would recommend that any time-critical shipments are highlighted as far in advance as possible to ensure that capacity is secured on many of the major routes – we know this can be complex due to the nature of air cargo requirements and the need to speed up supply chains but will continue to deliver the best service in the industry.

Evaluating and blocking space on viable services early, including our sea/air platforms and hub services, is a critical factor in achieving the most demanding deadlines, so waste no time and contact Elliot Carlile now, to explore our time-sensitive solutions and the viability of sea/air for your supply chain.