By John McDermott
A Brief Look at Cargo Airlines
When we ask people to think of “airlines,” often the first ones that come to mind are passenger airlines. While passenger airlines play a critical role in the global economy, cargo airlines represent mind-blowing logistics to carry freight around the world at lightning speed.
Among the most visible cargo airlines are FedEx, UPS and DHL, the three major U.S.-based package courier companies. These airlines are among the best examples of cargo operations on massive scales: FedEx has more planes than Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways combined and is the largest cargo airline in the world; UPS flies to more than double the destinations as the world’s largest passenger airline; and DHL delivers to every country in the world, including North Korea.
Cargo airlines often center their operations around a number of hubs in all their markets that help cut down on delivery times by getting packages as close to as many people as possible in the shortest time. While, for example, FedEx’s Superhub in Memphis is the most well-known, the airline also has a hub in Singapore, Shanghai, Seoul, Osaka, Anchorage, Dallas, Toronto, Paris, Cologne and Dubai, among others. These hubs serve as sorting points for the airline: when packages are received at the hubs, they’ll be processed and placed on planes heading to their destinations.
FedEx’s hubs collectively have the capacity to process millions of packages every day. By distributing sorting duties throughout different hubs, FedEx can sort and ship packages as efficiently as possible – utilizing its fleet of nearly 650 planes and nearly 80,000 vehicles – in as short as one or two days, even if a package must be shipped across the world.
Cargo airlines can play essential roles in charter operations as well; while some cargo airlines like FedEx focus on shipping largely smaller packages daily, other carriers rely more on charter operations to transport specific goods on specific flights. Cargo airlines, for example, will play an essential role in transporting the impending Coronavirus vaccines quickly, efficiently and in ideal conditions. The speed with which airlines can process, load and ship air freight makes them ideal for distributing time-sensitive cargo such as vaccines when people – especially those with health risks for diseases like the coronavirus – are counting on efficient air cargo operations to save their lives.
There’s one issue with cargo operations that makes it difficult to enter the air cargo industry: scaling. FedEx, UPS and DHL are so successful because they have the infrastructure and staffing to process huge volumes of packages in a short amount of time. Cargo charter airlines have access to big planes and vast networks that make even the most remote destinations accessible if needed. If a small airline wants to get into the air freight business, they might have a tough time rivaling the speed and efficiency of bigger cargo airlines just because the smaller carriers don’t have the infrastructure to sort and ship packages in just a couple of hours nor mobilize big planes on a moment’s notice to fly to far-away destinations with heavy cargo.
Running a cargo airline is logistically challenging, but a select number of airlines have been able to master the art of air cargo operations and help the world economy globalize – and help people reach each other – faster than ever before.
This article is sponsored by Flightworx, one of the industry’s leaders in flight planning, operations and management, deliveries and maintenance, ground handling, and numerous other facets of the flight support field. Visit their website to learn more.