Putzger perspective: Freighter options

By Damian Brett

Credit: Shutterstock

Shippers are desperate for capacity to make sure their goods get to market. Disruptions and equipment shortages have resulted in billions of dollars in lost business.

In the US a growing number of shippers are considering a return to proprietary truck fleets.

DIY equipment and materials retail giant Home Depot has even contracted its dedicated container ship to ensure it has sufficient capacity.

Vietnamese retail firm Imex Pan Pacific Group is bent on going even further. It aims to have its own cargo airline next year.

The plan calls for a fleet of five planes in the first year, growing to seven and ten over the following two years.

Freighter conversion outfits are running flat out and still have to turn business away. The head of sales of one of them was already halfway through his 2022 sales target this past June.

Airlines that had zero interest in all-cargo operations now see a case for running freighters.

Canadian low-cost passenger airline WestJet revealed in late June that it decided to acquire four converted B737-800 freighters to feast on e-commerce business beginning in the second quarter of next year.

It joins a lengthening list of unlikely freighter operators, such as leisure airline Sun Country, which has been flying B737-800s for Amazon, and regional carrier Mesa Airlines, which flies B737-400Fs for DHL.

These developments indicate a frothy exuberance about the air cargo business. At this point it seems that anything capable of flying cargo would fill up in no time, and this is not going to change this year.

The recovery of passenger flying has been slower than hoped for, and the lag has been especially pronounced in international widebody flights, which have accounted for the lion’s share of the belly cargo that traditionally made up close to 50% of overall capacity.

According to McKinsey, global cargo capacity will remain maxed out through next year. Meanwhile, demand is expected to remain voracious.

E-commerce continues to expand, gobbling up plenty of space in cargo holds, and the worsening problems in container shipping — with congestion spilling from ports to inland rail hubs, playing out at eye-watering rate levels — make airfreight attractive, if not an outright necessity for many shippers.

In this cyclical business, the next downturn will come, but investment in some older converted freighters looks tempting. Buying new widebody freighters requires a different outlook, though.

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