US cargo carriers request FAA exemptions for Middle East ops

Atlas Air's 747Fs flying for Qantas will be upgraded from -400Fs to 747-8Fs. Photo: Atlas Air

Several U.S.-based air cargo and express carriers, including Kalitta Air, FedEx and Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings’ subsidiary carriers, requested exemption from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to continue operating in the Middle East despite the recent Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) banning U.S. carriers from flying in certain regions.

Airlines that submitted requests to the FAA this week include Kalitta Air, FedEx, Atlas Air, Southern Air and Polar Air Cargo. While none of the carriers have yet returned requests for comment on their Middle Eastern operations, all but FedEx submitted detailed requests that indicate the NOTAM has had a substantial impact on cargo operations from the U.S. into Bahrain International Airport (BAH).

The filings from all Atlas’ subsidiary carriers requested FAA “relief to the restriction on the airspace over the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, to operate to the Bahrain and Qatar airports, in support of continued operations into the region.” The destinations requested indicate at least some traffic is on behalf of the U.S. Department of Defense or military, as Atlas Air and Polar Air Cargo specifically requested permission to operate to Al Udeid Air Base (XJD) southwest of Doha, Qatar. The U.S. Air Force and U.S. Central Command both have operations at XJD.

Meanwhile, in addition to U.S. military mail operations, Kalitta Air stated in its filing that an exemption would allow it to continue operating in the region on behalf of DHL. In 2019, DHL Express extended its lease at BAH, where DHL’s traffic accounts for more than half the airport’s total airfreight operations. Considering that Southern Air also operates on behalf of DHL and has requested FAA permission to fly from DHL Express’ North American hub at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport (CVG) to BAH, it’s likely that many of the requested operations into BAH would be on behalf of the express company. For its part, a DHL spokesperson told Air Cargo World that it “had contingency plans in effect during the last few days that kept our volumes flowing, but we are back on track today.”

Meanwhile, many carriers based outside the U.S. also continue to divert flights around the region following missile attacks, and what appears to have been an attack on a 737 passenger jet in the region. Air Cargo World will continue reporting on the region as the situation develops.

This story has been updated following comment from DHL.

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