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Shanghai airport’s “worst-ever” cargo backlog is slowly easing, but forwarders are still recommending shippers turn to expedited ocean freight.

A perfect storm of lack of uplift, the global rush to buy face masks and China’s crackdown on shoddy PPE, saw aircraft “flying out empty”  over the country’s Labour Day holiday, forwarders told The Loadstar.

“Before the holiday [1-5 May], it was as bad as it could get,” said Stefan Holmqvist, MD of Norman Global Logistics (NGL) Hong Kong.

“There were huge truck queues and congestion at warehouses in Pudong, there were long waiting times and a lot of cargo couldn’t catch flights. That crazy situation has improved somewhat, but it [the airport] is still very congested,” he added.

Mr Holmqvist said NGL was still delivering cargo five days in advance of flights, and that customs inspection waiting time was now “five or six hours, rather than the crazy 48 hours experienced during the peak of the congestion”.

And the tighter export controls make it very difficult to transfer cargo to Hong Kong, so most PPE must go through mainland airports, he added.

“Rates have come down a little from those we saw before the holiday,” he said. “But we’re still at high levels not seen in a long time.”

Indeed, with many shippers opting for charter flights to get the required lift out of China, there’s a lot at stake if cargo can’t be cleared in time for take-off.

“Flights have left empty and if you have sourced and prepaid a charter for US$1.5m, that’s nothing short of a disaster,” said Rickard Ingvarsson, CEO Asia and global head of airfreight, Scan Global Logistics.

He said the “heavy” congestion at Shanghai had spread to other airports: “Guangzhou, Zhengzhou, Shenzhen and Xiamen have been very busy, and will remain hot spots for some time yet,”

“We are working with other airports and solutions,” added Mr Ingvarsson, “however, everything needs to be closely checked day by day, as ‘less-mature’ airports in second-tier cities don’t have the same experience and customs knowledge when dealing with PPE shipments.”

Marco Reichel, APAC regional business development at Crane Worldwide Logistics, said the “huge” backlog at PVG would likely last until the end of the month, due to the lack of flight capacity and “immense” volumes of PPE still flowing in.

As a result, both Crane and NGL are seeing a rise in demand for expedited ocean services on the transpacific tradelane. For example, Mr Reichel said Crane was using premium ocean services from Shanghai to Los Angeles, with an 11-day transit time, and “recommending this to all clients at the moment.”

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