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Airlines in Dubai are facing major disruption to their cargo operations after UAE handling company Dnata took a dramatic step towards forcing freighters out of Dubai International (DXB).

The handler, which has battled congestion at the airport since the end of November, late yesterday afternoon sent an email to its customers informing them of a “backlog at our freight gate 5 facilities” – said to be at “a critical stage”.

It said because of this, from midnight it would no longer handle offline import cargo by road, including that moving to or from Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, or online import cargo on freighters.

It added: “Any RFS cargo arriving at DXB during these restrictions will not be offloaded. Any cargo on freighters arriving at DXB during these restrictions can be optionally transferred by road to Dubai World Central (DWC) at carriers’ discretion, or left on board.”

It made an exception for perishables and express but said that the backlog would likely take up to a week to clear.

However, it added that carriers may not be welcome back to DXB after restrictions ended.

“It is important to point out that obviously not all cargo will be allowed back into DXB, due to capacity constraints, which we forecasted and have now become a reality, and also due to a lack of any further expansion options.”

It urged customers: “Do consider the DWC alternative as a likely permanent for the bulk of the cargo affected.”

The handler admitted that these were “extreme measures” and Dnata, wrote Kevin Ennis, vp cargo business development, “repeats its offer, made earlier this year, to handle both categories affected by this DXB restriction at its DWC facilities, where the same restrictions do not apply”.

The move has angered carriers operating at DXB, which are not only accusing Dnata of bias towards sister company Emirates, which handles its own cargo, and abuse of a monopoly position, but also of poor planning. Witnesses at DXB reported that the last two weeks had been “chaos”, with, on average, nine-hour delays for deliveries of imports to customers and truck offloading.

One senior executive at a cargo-carrying airline said: “How can an airline arriving here tomorrow morning plan to offload cargo with no notice? It may mean they fly here empty and ensure they have space to uplift their exports.

“It’s unbelievably poor planning, as this [congestion] has been going on for a month now.

“Dnata wants all the airlines out so that Emirates can have the whole place to itself.

“There is nothing at DWC, not a bus or train. It’s in the middle of nowhere. The integrators have invested a lot of money in facilities in DXB, why should they just move without any compensation?”

Trucking between other UAE airports can be fraught with problems, claim carriers, and DWC seems to have little appeal. From March, for example, Saudia Cargo is shifting all its UAE freighter operations to Sharjah and leaving DWC – partly because of trucking problems, but mostly, according to the carrier, because of stronger relationships with Sharjah Airport.

One senior airline source added: “This situation is very annoying for airlines. Trucking between DWC and Sharjah is nearly impossible and very expensive. We have seen a huge cost in trucking.”

Yet another senior source in the region said: “This is a major restriction and I am not sure how the airline community will cope,” adding that there was a “distinct advantage” for customers using Emirates into Dubai.

A rival handler said the situation could not happen in a competitive market. “It is disgraceful and looks like forcing people to use DWC. Only a monopoly could ever act like this. It really is very poor.”

Dnata did not respond to requests for a comment, but in an email to agents seen by The Loadstar it made its views clear: “DXB is fast becoming (as forecasted and communicated earlier) a cargo handling solution solely catering for online cargo on passenger aircraft. DWC has been developed to cater for all other cargo (online freighters and offline RFS). We therefore repeat our offer to seriously consider supporting airlines moving capacity to DWC by transacting directly at DWC.

“Dnata deeply regrets that its repeated pleas to the industry last year to transfer capacity to DWC were not taken seriously, and we hence apologise for all the inconvenience now caused. We are confident that the extreme measures that we have now been forced to take will restore our service level back to pre-1st January 2014 as a result.”

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