Watch Now

Air Canada expanding refrigeration capability at Toronto cargo hub

New cold chain capabilities are part of airline’s renewed focus on freight

A shipment of lobsters ready to be loaded on a plane. More cold storage capability will allow Air Canada to safely transport seafood and other temperature-sensitive products. (Photo: Ahmed Syed/Air Canada)

Air Canada on Friday announced a $16 million investment to expand and improve cold storage capability for pharmaceuticals, fresh food and other perishable products at its Toronto Pearson International Airport cargo hub.

The project is part of the airline’s strategy to further develop its cargo division, which includes the addition of a freighter fleet, the launch of dedicated freighter routes and an expansion into e-commerce.

The upgraded facility, which is scheduled to be completed in the fourth quarter, will feature more than 30,000 square feet of temperature-controlled areas and an expanded cooler to maintain the integrity of perishable goods.

The enhancements are the first step in a multiyear investment plan for the facility and are part of several planned infrastructure investment projects for Air Canada Cargo, according to the airline.

Better cold chain logistics capabilities will “give Air Canada Cargo a strategic advantage at our main hub, which handles more than 60% of all our traffic, and will support the launch of routes to be served by our new freighter aircraft,” said Jason Berry, vice president of cargo, in a statement.

Israel Aircraft Industries is in the process of converting eight Air Canada 767-300 (Boeing) passenger aircraft into pure freighters. The first newly reconfigured aircraft is scheduled to enter service by the end of the year, a slight departure from the original plan to launch commercial flights in October. The plane will initially operate on key routes to support peak season shipping.

Starting in early 2022, the first freighter will fly primarily out of Toronto to Miami; Quito, Ecuador; Lima, Peru; Mexico City; and Guadalajara — locations that export large quantities of fresh fruit, flowers and fish that require refrigeration. As previously announced, additional cities such as Madrid, Frankfurt, Germany, and St. John’s, Canada — a large source for lobster exports — will get a freighter connection when the second aircraft is delivered next year. 

Air Canada (OTC US: AC) executives doubled down on cargo when it became a top revenue performer during the pandemic. Since March 2020, Air Canada has operated more than 11,000 all-cargo flights using its wide-body passenger aircraft as well as seven Boeing 777 and Airbus A330 aircraft that have had their seats removed to increase space for lighter loads. The quick focus on cargo when passenger travel was wiped out by COVID and planes has resulted in significant increases in cargo revenue and helped shore up the bottom line when there was little other income. Air Canada achieved record cargo revenue of $274 million in the second quarter.  

The addition of freighter aircraft will allow Air Canada Cargo to provide consistent capacity on key air cargo routes, rather than relying exclusively on passenger aircraft that may not have enough space or frequency on certain flights. The freighters also let Air Canada support more industries by being able to carry automotive and aerospace parts, oil and gas equipment, temperature-controlled products and e-commerce packages that require speed.

The extra cold storage space in Toronto will accommodate more airfreight containers and loose shipments that can be kept between 35.6 and 46.4 degrees Fahrenheit, or between 59 degrees and room temperature, with additional racking and a dedicated area for active temperature-control units.

The project also includes the installation of energy-efficient equipment, such as thermostats that automatically maintain temperatures and reduce energy consumption, and rapid roll-up doors that minimize the energy loss when the cooler is accessed to store or retrieve goods. LED lights will be installed throughout the facility.

The new cold chain handling capabilities will help Air Canada, which is certified by the International Air Transport Association for meeting the highest safety, security and compliance standards for pharmaceutical handling, move more COVID-19 vaccines. 

“Investing in our cold chain handling capabilities is a critical part of our strategy and expansion plans,” said Matthieu Casey, senior director of cargo global sales and revenue optimization. “We have made many changes and improvements to our pharmaceutical and perishable handling solutions in recent years. … A state-of-the-art cold chain facility in Toronto is the next logical step and fully aligns with the rollout of our initial freighter network.”

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.


Loonie tune: Air cargo through O’Hare being routed through Toronto

Air Canada sets record for cargo revenue in second quarter

First Air Canada freighter routes include Miami, Mexico and S. America

How Air Canada beat US airlines removing seats for cargo

Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government coverage and news analysis, and was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]