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Atlas Air adds freighter for Cainiao as Boeing winds down 747-8 production

The last four 747-8 freighters to roll off Boeing’s production line this year are going to all-cargo operator Atlas Air, which announced Thursday the first one recently received will be assigned to support Cainiao, the logistics arm of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group.

The cargo jet will increase capacity on routes between China and the Americas that Atlas operates as part of Cainiao’s virtual private airline. Cainiao has expanded service with Atlas (NASDAQ: AAWW) since their initial deal in October 2020. Atlas now operates daily flights between China and Latin America with a dedicated fleet of five 747-400s and 747-8s as Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) rapidly increases e-commerce sales on the continent. Cainiao says its goal is to deliver goods anywhere in the world within three days.

The sixth freighter will also cover the route from China to Santiago, Chile, and Sao Paulo via the U.S. Atlas Air has a partnership with LATAM Airlines that provides connecting service to Lima, Peru, and Bogota, Colombia.

Atlas ordered the four 747-8s in January 2021. It operates more 747 freighters, 45, than any other airline in the world. Ten of them are 747-8s. It also has five 747 passenger jets and four specially modified jumbo freighters for moving large aircraft sections for Boeing (NYSE: BA).

The 747-8 provides 20% more payload capacity while using 16% less fuel than the older 747-400 variant.

“These four new 747-8s allow us to offer our customers significant growth opportunities to capitalize on strong demand and deliver value on what we consider among the best and most versatile widebody freighters in the market,” Michael Steen, CEO of Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, said in a news release.

Atlas has previously said that the remaining 747-8s on order already are committed to specific customers.

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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 ekulisch@freightwaves.com