One of the most far reaching supply chain disruption events this year may well be underway concerning the effects of the shutdown of all air traffic in certain parts of the continent of Europe.  Large parts of air space around northern Europe are expected to remain closed to air traffic as a result of a moving cloud of volcanic ash that originated from a volcano in Iceland. Thousands of commercial air travelers are currently stranded and ground transportation networks such as bus and rail are currently overwhelmed. About 17,000 flights are impacted for Friday and Germany’s Frankfurt and the UK Heathrow airports, Europe’s busiest have suspended operations for all but emergency flights.

This morning’s Financial Times depicts the situation “as one of the most extensive bans on commercial flights since world war two.” The traveling cloud of ash and debris is expected to migrate to the upper portions of northern Europe this weekend and forecasters are finding it rather difficult to predict when any sense of air traffic normalcy can resume.

On its web site, UPS has acknowledged a disruption to its air traffic and is reminding customers that service guarantees do not apply when transportation networks are disrupted. DHL and FedEx on the other hand seem to remain silent but are certainly impacted.

The obvious impacts for global supply chains dependent on exported shipments will lie in the duration and scope of this disruption.  Since most air shipments tend to be time critical, my sense is that if the situation does not improve by Sunday, firms will experience some economic impacts as air transport carriers try to adjust to the effects of this disruption.  Obviously, this situation bears close watching by procurement planning, logistics and distribution teams.

Bob Ferrari