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

Transport experts said the launches 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 ditched staff training during “operation iPhone drop”. In the latest quarterly health check on the U.S. economy, published on October 11, the Federal Reserve 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 of freight research firm Drewry said the delivery of the iPhone had helped the air freight industry bounce back from a collapse in prices — July this year had seen the lowest prices experienced since July 2009. Dixon said the indicative average cost of air freight from China to the west had risen 7 per cent to $3.56 a kg 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 cut spending by transporting more goods by sea.

John Manners-Bell, chief executive of research firm Transport Intelligence, said Apple’s demand for air cargo capacity was so large that it was “able to skew rates across a large proportion of the global air cargo market”. He said prices spiked by 20 per cent when Apple launched the latest iPad version in March.

Manners-Bell said Apple was now “by far the biggest air cargo shipper in the world by some margin.” “There is talk of airlines pulling scheduled routes to serve the account,” he said.

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2012

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