Puerto Rico airfreight braces for Hurricane Irma landfall

  • Lewis King
  • September 6, 2017
  • News

The UPS cargo processing center at Puerto Rico’s SJU was closed as of Sept. 5 in anticipation of Hurricane Irma.

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO — As the cleanup continues in the Houston area in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, another part of the United States is bracing for the next blow in the form of Hurricane Irma, which has recently crossed into the Caribbean Sea.

FedEx and UPS operations out of the Caribbean’s busiest airport, Puerto Rico’s Luis Muñoz Marín International (SJU), have been suspended since last night in anticipation of the Category 5 storm, which is being called the most powerful hurricane to threaten the U.S. territory in decades.

“I’ve never seen anything of this magnitude,” Javier Vachier, operation manager at Ameriflight, said to Air Cargo World. “We’ve had Category 1’s and 2’s but never in my life 5.”

The last Category 5 storm to make landfall on the island was 1928, and forwarders at the airport have suspended operations in anticipation of widespread damage to infrastructure and power outages that could last for weeks if the storm comes ashore, as expected later today.

As local operators move their aircraft south out of the hurricane’s path, which is currently expected to pass along the north coast of the island, FedEx and UPS have suspended operations, as the last aircraft leave the area.

Disruptions to airfreight traffic on the island could affect pharmaceutical shipments to the rest of the world, as life-sciences cargo makes up a substantial percentage of Puerto Rico’s exports. However, none of the SJU- based freight forwarders were available to comment.

“In terms of the Caribbean, they [UPS and FedEx] have cancelled all flights until we can secure all our aircraft,” Ameriflight’s Vachier said.

With sustained winds reaching 185 miles per hour and even higher gusts, Hurricane Irma is the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded outside of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, according to the National Hurricane Center.

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