Carmakers and logistics providers are keeping a close eye on the skies over Europe again this week as the latest volcanic eruption in Iceland continues to disrupt flights there and in the UK and Germany.
Just more than a year since the Eyjafjallajokull volcano grounded flights across Europe, causing the greatest disruption to airspace since the Second World War, another eruption from the Grimsvotn volcano last Saturday, which was actually more violent than last year’s explosion, has now grounded all flights to and from Iceland, and closed airports in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Germany also temporarily closed several airports in the northern part of the country, including Bremen and Hamburg.
Over the weekend, Grimsvotn was sending between 10-100 times more material per second than Eyjafjallajokull did last April and the ash plume reached 17km (11 miles), compared with the 6-9km from the Eyjafjallajokull eruption.
However, current weather patterns are largely keeping the ash cloud away from European airspace and experts report that the material being produced by Grimsvotn is likely to be in the form of larger grains that will fall out of the atmosphere more quickly.
Nevertheless, carmakers and LSPs remain cautious.
BMW, which last year was forced to halt production at three plants in Germany as well as slowdown output at its US plant in South Carolina because of the volcanic disruption, said this week that it was watching the situation carefully, though so far there had been no impact on its parts imports.
Similarly Nissan, which last year was forced to halt production of 2,000 vehicles at its Oppama plant in Japan because it was unable to import air pressure sensors from Ireland, said that production was unaffected at this stage but that it was monitoring the situation.
With flights to and from the UK affected, production at Jaguar Land Rover’s plants there is also a cause for concern. Last year Jaguar Land Rover said that its production had been affected for parts flown in from overseas.
DHL, which provides inbound logistics support amongst other services for Jaguar Land Rover, as well as BMW, Nissan and JCB, said that, when providing 3PL services, risk management was a constant consideration.
“We constantly think about this especially with a car plant,” said Paul Dyer, DHL’s managing director of DHL's UK Automotive business and head of the global automotive sector. “To hold another days worth of inventory close to the plant versus stopping a line for a day, it’s a no-brainer. We are constantly working with most of our customers with that equation of risk versus total supply chain cost. Last year with the ash cloud and certainly with the earthquake in Japan we are helping our customers to get a lot more visibility of tier two, tier three and tier four sourcing.”
Last year the company took contingency measures to prevent a standstill following disruption to parts flown in from overseas.
OEMs are this week looking for advice on similar contingencies from emergency logistics providers such as Evolution Time Critical and Priority Freight.
“We have received a number of requests from customers for advice on contingencies should key parts of their own particular supply chains become affected, and have advised accordingly,” managing director of Evolution Time Critical, Brad Brennan told Automotive Logistics. “We have also sent a general bulletin to our customers to update them.”
Brennan noted that the situation was not as severe as it was last year, which saw blanket airport closures across Europe, with current modelling showing that the ash cloud concentration is lifting. Closures at Hamburg and Bremen in Germany are only temporary and there is no evidence of backlogs. But Brennan said that the model does suggest a possible return to UK and parts of Europe on Friday, particularly at higher altitudes, and confirmed that Evolution was monitoring the situation closely.
“We learned a great deal from the experiences of last year, and should the situation worsen, we have contingencies in place which include flying components from outside Europe into non-affected areas, and transferring by road under T1 status, or simply arranging fast vans for movement of inter-European deliveries,” he said.
Prioity Freight also confirmed it had been in contact with its customers to discuss their supply chains in the UK, Europe and Russia over the next few days, providing advice of its contingency solutions.
“We have only had to reroute two consignments planned for shipment by air early this morning to express courier vans in Northern Europe and the ultimate delivery times have been unaffected,” said managing director, Neal Williams.
He added that should conditions deteriorate it will be the intercontinental movements that will be disrupted most.
“We will advise our clients to authorize us to ship to near countries unaffected by the ash by air charter and scheduled air cargo. Once on ground we will expedite deliveries by road to the ultimate destination as we did last year for numerous OEMs and tier suppliers.