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Air Canada rushes 1st freighter into service to supply flooded Vancouver

Airline skips new paint job, changes route plan to meet urgent cargo demand

Air Canada has become a combination carrier after starting its own dedicated freighter fleet with Boeing 767s that previously carried passengers. (Photo: Air Canada)

In a change of plans, Air Canada on Thursday operated the inaugural flight of its first dedicated freighter to Vancouver with a full load of supplies to help British Columbia cope with flooding and landslides that have disrupted freight rail and truck transportation.

Israel Aircraft Industries delivered the converted Boeing 767 cargo jet to Air Canada’s Toronto hub on Sunday. The aircraft was originally scheduled to fly its first mission to Frankfurt, Germany, but Air Canada Cargo deployed the aircraft early to airlift goods to the Vancouver area.

Air Canada (OTC US: ACDVF) said it plans to operate 12 trips between its Toronto and Vancouver cargo hubs with the new all-cargo aircraft. 

“Our teams have also worked extremely hard over the last several days to get our freighter into service early to aid in the transport of goods to Vancouver,” said Jason Berry, vice president of cargo, in the announcement.

In the initial aftermath of the flooding last month, Air Canada quickly increased cargo capacity by 646 tons into Vancouver from Toronto, Montreal and Calgary using cargo-only passenger jets and upsizing to larger aircraft on passenger services to accommodate more belly freight.

Freight railroads in Canada are now operating limited service to the Port of Vancouver.

Given the immediate demand for cargo capacity, the first freighter entered service without its final livery. It will be painted at a later date in a Cargo variation of the Air Canada brand logo introduced in 2017, the company said.

Air Canada plans to alternate service between Toronto and Vancouver, and Toronto and Frankfurt, for the remainder of 2021. In 2022, the freighter will also serve Miami; Quito, Ecuador; Lima, Peru; and Guadalajara, Mexico. When the second converted freighter is delivered in the first half of 2022, the airline will add cargo service to Madrid, and Halifax and St. John’s, Canada.

Air Canada Cargo will eventually have eight 767-300s in its fleet. The carrier decided to establish a freighter unit late last year after successfully pivoting to cargo-only passenger flights during the pandemic and recognizing how much e-commerce is boosting air cargo growth.

Since March 2020, Air Canada has operated more than 13,000 all-cargo flights globally using its widebody passenger aircraft as well as certain temporarily modified Boeing 777 and Airbus A330 aircraft, which have additional available cargo space due to the removal of seats from the passenger cabin.

The Boeing 767-300 extended range freighters will allow Air Canada Cargo to offer five different main deck configurations, increasing the overall cargo capacity of each aircraft to nearly 64 tons or 15,000 cubic feet. Three-quarters of the capacity is on the main deck, where passengers used to sit. 

The freighters will provide consistent capacity to shippers, reducing the chance of shipments being squeezed out by baggage and being held for the next flight.  They also will increase Air Canada’s capability to transport goods such as automotive and aerospace parts, oil and gas equipment, pharmaceuticals, perishables, as well as e-commerce goods. 

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


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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]