The 2010 break in the global supply chain also sowed economic distress in Bangladesh. A week after the initial eruption, the country’s garment industry saw 770,000 pounds of clothing piling up at the main airport, according to news reports, keeping manufacturers from finalizing sales to European wholesalers.
While cargo ships handle large volumes of international clothing shipments, Asian manufacturers also use cargo airlines to quickly send high-priority goods, such as seasonal clothing, to meet the stringent deadlines of buyers in Europe and elsewhere.
Manufacturers also needed to fly new samples to buyers in time for them to make decisions about future contracts.
Bangladeshi clothing companies, which accounted for approximately 78 percent of the country’s total exports in 2010, were becoming increasingly reliant on air-freight shipments in the months leading up to the volcano’s eruption. In 2009, they sent 3,100 tons of clothing a month by air to the European Union, their leading trading partner, according to the World Bank. Just weeks before the blast, the amount had risen to 8,600 tons, or a fifth of the country’s monthly total.
Flight disruptions in northern Europe temporarily put shipments on hold and raised fears about lost sales.
“The garments were already behind schedule, and now they are being held up because of the flight problems,” said Abdus Salam Murshed, the president of the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association in a 2010 interview. “We are worried buyers will reject these shipments as they are so late.”