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A US restriction on carrying tall, rigid cargo on 747 freighters is costing US operators millions of dollars in lost business to foreign competitors.

In a filing on Monday to the US Department of Transportation (DoT), National Air Cargo requested an exemption to allow it to carry “tall rigid cargo [freight that is taller than 98in and will not break apart during an emergency landing] restrained to withstand a 3G forward load” on 747 freighters. The current requirement is for 9G.

Twenty-foot shipping containers come into this cargo bracket.

It claimed: “The tall rigid cargo 9G requirement has caused a major impact in the ability to move US Department of Defense assets back to the United States from various locations around the world. This not only has resulted in inability to move assets but has also caused major economic impacts on National Airlines and its industry counterparts.”

It added that the exemption “would have no adverse impact on safety” and would be in the public interest.

It asked the DoT to “allow National Airlines to realise the full capabilities of its investments in the B-747 aircraft and stem the loss of millions of dollars of tall rigid cargo business to foreign operators, which regularly transport tall rigid cargo without meeting the 9G forward restraint requirement.”

Noting substantial and increased demand for the cargo type, particularly in projects and developing countries, as well as the aerospace industry, it said shippers had been turning to foreign competitors.

“National Airlines is losing substantial business due to the inability to offer competitive bids to carry tall rigid loads. Many foreign competitors routinely carry 20ft containers and other tall rigid cargo without restraining them to withstand a forward 9G force.”

Meanwhile, National is among nine US carriers awarded some $600m in Civil Reserve Air Fleet contracts.

ATSG won contracts for both its cargo airlines, ABX Air and ATI, as well as its new acquisition, Omni Air, bringing its contracts to a total value of $125m. However, ATI also won a contract extension, worth $84m, for combination passenger and cargo charter airlift services.  The contract runs to December 31 2021, and was increased from a $40m contract.

Atlas Air, however, won the largest single contract, worth $231.8m, involving international charter airlift services for the Department of Defence, to September 30 2019.

Other airlines on the list were FedEx, ($34m), UPS ($14.9m), Kalitta Air ($160m), Western Global ($7.5m) and National Airlines ($8m). All, with the exception of Atlas, FedEx and UPS, were logged as “small businesses”.

International Auto Logistics, in Brunswick, Georgia, also won a contract, for transport and storage of private vehicles, worth $295m over two years.

The US military has a complex rate structure that, for longer-haul flights, amounts to $2.17 per lb for small shipments, falling to $1.34 for the largest shipments. The rates for 2019 can be found here.

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