Japanese shipments will compete at the airport

To get out of the jam it's in over the disaster in Japan, the world auto industry is certain to do what it always does to overcome supply chain trouble – turn to air freight.

Putting cartons of eagerly needed car parts onto airplanes for rushed delivery around the world is expensive, it destroys profits and plays havoc with logistics systems. But it gets the job done.

Only it's not going to be so easy this time.

Why? Because every industry that relies on Japanese-made goods is currently in the same bind right now and thinking the same thought – "Switch to air freight."

But there is only so much air freight capacity to go around in the form of Federal Express and DHL airplanes and flight schedules and routes. And in this crisis, the competition for shipment space is going to be bigger.

Japan's crisis is not limited to the auto sector, or to the microchip industry, or to a single city or a single customer.

Toyota and its auto suppliers won't merely be competing with Honda and Mazda and Nissan and Suzuki and their suppliers for airplane cargo space. They will all collectively be competing with companies like Sony, Toshiba, Fujitsu and even big American non-industrials like Walmart and Sears.

Consumers of Japanese computers, tractors and industrial equipment and all their parts will be just as eager as North America's auto plants to get their shipments.

And Japan's customers in China and Europe are also going to be eagerly looking for space on airplanes until the country's flow of commerce is unblocked.

Expect delays. Expect added shipping costs. Expect a season of new profit-margin challenges.

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