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The huge logistical challenge of delivering millions of new iPhone 5s around the world has led to a spike in the cost of air freight.

Freight transport experts said the launch of Apple products have become such big business for the air cargo industry that delivery firms and airlines have chartered dozens of extra planes, cancelled scheduled routes and cancelled staff training during “operation iPhone drop”.

The phenomenon has even warranted a mention in the Federal Reserve‘s Beige Book. In the latest quarterly health check on the US economy, published today, the Fed said: “Air cargo companies saw an increase in cargo volume tied to the launch of various smartphones and computer tablets, which favour shipment by air over other modalities.”

Martin Dixon, research manager of freight research firm Drewry, said the delivery of the iPhone had helped the air freight industry bounce back from the lowest prices experienced since July 2009, when most of the developed world was in the grip of recession.

Dixon said the indicative average cost of air freight from China to the West had risen 7% to $3.56 per kilo between August and September, and he expected it to rise even higher this month in the wake of the iPhone 5 launch.

He said Apple has had a “huge impact” on the air freight industry which is experiencing a deep contraction as many companies are trying to save money by transporting more goods by seas instead of air.

“Only a few years ago smartphones weren’t around, now they make up a huge part of air freight goods,” he said. “Apple are very clever at how they manage their supply chain and their ability to secure air freight capacity to launch new models is a key part of that strategy.”

John Manners-Bell, chief executive of research firm Transport Intelligence, said Apple’s demand for air cargo capacity is so large that it is “able to skew rates across a large proportion of the global air cargo market”. He said it was too early to state how much air freight rates have risen as result of the iPhone 5, which launched on September 21, but said prices spiked by 20% when Apple launched the latest version of the iPad in March.

Manners-Bell said Apple was now “by far the biggest air cargo shipper in world by some margin”, and the industry was a awash with rumours about the lengths logistics companies and airlines have gone to meet the Californian company’s demands. “There is talk of airlines pulling scheduled routes to [have more planes free] to serve the Apple account,” he said.

Kevin Sterling, a freight transport analyst at BB&T Capital Markets, said he had heard that Apple had chartered up to 70 jets in the run up to the launch of the iPhone. He had predicted that the air freight rate could reach as high as $5 a kilo in the days surrounding the launch.

US delivery giant FedEx postponed training classes for staff during the first few days of the iPhone launch as it prepared for a “surge event”, according to an internal memo leaked to MacRumours.

The analysts said none of the big delivery companies would divulge the impact of the iPhone, but Chinese delivery firm THI Group, which provides freight services for the a company that assembles the iPhone 5 reported a 50% rise in profits from Hong Kong and China today.

Apple sold a record-breaking 5m iPhone 5s in the first three days after the product launched, but a crackdown on scratched phones has led analysts at RBC Capital Markets to cut their forecasts for iPhone 5 sales in the last three months of the year to 49m units from 57m.

From: guardian.co.uk – Read more

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