FedEx, UPS Suspend Cargo Flights To Russia, Ukraine

FedEx Express plane 767
Credit: FedEx

Shipping giants FedEx Express and UPS have halted cargo flights to and from Russia, as the ripple effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine continue to widen.

The suspension of shipments by North America’s two largest freight forwarders comes as businesses and governments cut ties with Russia in an effort to cause maximum economic pain over the country’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Both FedEx and UPS have already ceased operating to and from Ukraine as the conflict there continues to escalate. 

FedEx said in a statement that the company is “monitoring the situation and has contingency plans in place, including temporarily suspending inbound and outbound services to Ukraine and inbound service to Russia until further notice.”

UPS said in a statement that packages en route to Russia and Ukraine will be returned to the sender free of charge, if possible. 

“Our focus is on the safety of our people, providing continued service and minimizing disruption to our customers,” UPS said. “UPS continues to closely monitor the situation and will re-establish service as soon as it is practical and safe to do so.”

Germany-based DHL has also suspended shipments to and from Ukraine and is avoiding overflying the country’s airspace. As a European carrier, the company is also no longer operating to Russia to comply with the latest EU restrictions.

The suspensions from FedEx and UPS came as the U.S. government evaluates whether to permit Russian airlines to continue operating to the U.S., although no final decision has yet been made. 

Russian charter and cargo operator Volga-Dnepr Group’s AirBridge Cargo unit, meanwhile, has removed all its aircraft from Europe after the EU and UK banned Russian aircraft from operating in their airspace.

An-225 Destroyed

The world’s largest cargo aircraft, Ukraine’s Antonov An-225, was reportedly destroyed by Russian bombardment outside Kyiv on Feb. 27, according to the Ukrainian state-owned defense industry conglomerate Ukroboronprom Group. In a statement, Ukroboronprom described the An-225, known as Mriya, as “a symbol of Ukraine’s aviation capabilities” and vowed to restore it, at a cost of over $3 billion and an estimated five-year duration. “Our task is to ensure that these costs are covered by the Russian Federation, which has caused intentional damage to Ukraine’s aviation and the air cargo sector,” Ukroboronprom said.

In addition to the world’s only An-225, several An-124s have also been destroyed in the conflict, according to a Twitter thread from Flexport CEO Ryan Peterson. As of 2019, there were only 26 An-124s in service worldwide, Peterson said. 

Air freight shipping rates are likely to rise in the aftermath of the invasion as the disruptions further limit capacity and force operators to re-route around the affected countries. Rates are already at their highest levels in years stemming from a lack of passenger airline belly capacity as widebody flights remain well below pre-pandemic levels, particularly between North America and Asia.

In December 2021, the most recent month with available data, air cargo rates were almost 150% higher than they were in December 2019, according to IATA, contributing to a “significant increase” in air cargo revenues across the sector.

Ben Goldstein

Based in Washington, Ben covers Congress, regulatory agencies, the Departments of Justice and Transportation and lobby groups.