A row has erupted over foreign carriers being given emergency cabotage rights in the US, when they haven’t checked the availability of US-certified capacity.

The issue stemmed from the proposed use of a Ukraine Air Alliance (UAA) AN-12 to supply relief equipment to Guam after last month’s Typhoon Mawar.

Atlas Air has written to the US Department of Transportation (DoT) objecting to the use of a foreign carrier to supply a US territory, when a domestic carrier was available, and said it hadn’t been polled in a timely way.

UAA had requested to operate a one-way cargo charter flight from Washington DC to Guam, with three technical stops in California, Hawaii and the Marshall Islands, between 9 and 12 June. It said it had been chartered by FEMA to move computer equipment and that “attempts were made to move this cargo via US carriers, but they did not have adequate availability to support our very urgent timeline”.

UAA added that it was polling all US-certified carriers.

However, Atlas Air said it had “no record of being contacted by the applicant or the charterer”, and added: “If Atlas had been contacted earlier, it is likely that a flight could have been arranged even more expeditiously.”

It said it had an aircraft available and “could provide the service departing on 13 June with arrival in Guam on 14 June”. Its 747-400 also had a longer range and would require fewer stops, added Atlas.

However, according to flight tracking data, UAA operated a flight on 10 June from Washington to San Bernadino, Honolulu and landed in Majuro, Marshall Islands on 11 June. It does not appear to have left for Guam yet, however.

Atlas Air said it had written to the DoT “scarcely three days ago”, about another recent UAA flight to Guam, but it did not object at the time because it did not have an aircraft and crew available.

But, it added: “The Atlas commercial team has no record of being contacted and offered the opportunity to bid the trip. We attempted to confirm through counsel that the applicant had done the necessary due diligence in contacting all US carriers able to provide the service, but none was forthcoming.

“It is axiomatic that, in order to approve an emergency cabotage exemption, there must be no US carrier able to provide the service.

“If Atlas did have an airplane, it would put us in the untenable position of having to object when our priority is getting relief flights in the air as soon as possible. The availability of US carrier lift should be confirmed early in the bid process, not at the end stage of polling on the application once the contract has been signed and flight preparations are under way. We urge the department to put foreign air carriers on notice of the need to verify the availability of US carrier lift.”

It added: “The department should consider requiring that emergency cabotage applications be supported by a signed verification of an officer of the applicant confirming that this has been done.”

The DoT has not yet publicly filed a response.

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