A high-performance network - even during a crisis
For nearly a week in mid-April, the cloud of ash spewing from the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull brought the air-transportation system to a complete standstill in many parts of Europe. While much of the public and media focused on the passenger flights canceled as a result of the cloud and the losses suffered by airlines, the freight-transport business experienced its own extensive delays around the world. Deutsche Post DHL, the world’s leading postal and logistics company, quickly took on this challenge and overcame it.
The cloud of ash from the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull posed a difficult challenge to logistics companies.
In doing so, the company proved once again that its national and international network is capable of performing on a high level even when confronted with unusual events. While facing this challenge, DHL employees profited from the company’s wide-ranging experience in solving special logistics problems around the world.
In the case of the ash cloud, the world's leading logistics company was capable of delivering its services from the very first day of the crisis. Within hours after the airspace over several European countries was closed, DHL implemented an emergency plan that had been drawn up by an international team. The plan defined alternative air routes and enabled transports to be shifted to ground vehicles. The aim was to prevent, to the greatest extent possible, undelivered goods from backing up and help the company's customers in the process. This goal was achieved in the following days thanks to the company's fast reaction and the organization's high flexibility.
As part of the emergency plan, DHL rerouted about 100 flights originally scheduled for the hub in Leipzig/Halle to such cities as Rome, Bergamo and Vittoria. Some shipments that had been scheduled to be flown from Leipzig were transported on the ground. A large number of trucks was dispatched to Leipzig on short notice to carry these shipments. Daily telephone conferences provided a regular flow of information among individual DHL country affiliates and enabled flexible adjustments to be repeatedly made in response to short-notice changes in European airspace conditions.
The good working relationship with local officials - including at the Leipzig/Halle airport - also played a major role. As a result, DHL was able to maintain a modified scheduled for intercontinental and intra-European transports on each day of the crisis. Shipments from the United States or Asia (or vice versa) did indeed arrive a few days late. But they were transported during times of a flight ban - generally from alternative airports using ground vehicles. Delays of intra-European transports were also very limited.
DHL had to reroute all flights from its European air hub Leipzig/Halle to other airports.
In addition to developing and implementing alternative solutions, the company focused its crisis management on one other goal: providing its customers with the greatest amount of information as possible about their shipments at all times. From a practical point of view, this meant that shipments had to be continuously scanned as always despite the use of alternative transport routes. In addition, customers received regular updates about developments, actions and potential solutions.
Thanks to the particularly intensive support, customer-assistance employees at DHL were able in most cases to help their contact persons understand why the unavoidable delays were occurring. The Group did not lose any customers as a result of the crisis. On the contrary: Many customers were especially pleased about the hard work and creativity being shown by Deutsche Post DHL during this unexpected situation and expressly praised the company's effort.
Once European airspace was reopened, DHL was able on the very first day to carry out most of the approximately 100 intra-European express flights at the European hub in Leipzig/Halle. Intercontinental operations to Asia, the United States, the Middle East and Africa had already begun to be performed normally. DHL was also able to resume normal operations to other European countries within a short period of time.
DHL's international freight business proved to be just as adept at handling the crisis as the express business was: Thanks to global crisis management and a cross-divisional dialogue with express colleagues, DHL Global Forwarding, Freight was able to quickly and proactively react to the fluid situation and utilize the available capacities in the best-possible way. As a result, more than 60 charter flights could be handled by using alternative routes that relied on such airports as Saragossa and Madrid in order to limit buildups of products for customers.
In mail delivery, successfully implemented alternative plans prevented large accumulations of letters from forming. During the period when Deutsche Post's overnight air-mail network was forced to stop operations, letters were transported on the ground, preventing additional costs from arising. At the International Mail Center in Frankfurt am Main, the first plane loaded with mail bound for Chicago took off a day before airspace was officially reopened.
There are no reliable figures yet about the total losses caused directly and indirectly by the Icelandic ash cloud. The international air-transport association IATA estimated the costs for airlines at more than $1.7 billion. For Deutsche Post DHL in contrast, the financial impact was negligible thanks to the company's fast, efficient crisis management.