Ocean container line CMA CGM’s new in-house cargo airline will operate its first flight March 8 from its home base at Liege Airport to Chicago, the company said Tuesday. It also confirmed earlier reports that Air Belgium will operate the fleet of four previously owned Airbus A330-200 freighters that it recently acquired.
In addition to diversifying its freight business, the move into air cargo gives the French ocean carrier’s huge logistics arm, CEVA Logistics, a leg up securing hard-to-find transport space for cargo shipments. CMA CGM said in the announcement that it is developing a block space agreement with CEVA, giving the subsidiary preferential access to its capacity at a time of supply shortage in the industry.
Block-space agreements are continuous reservations that give forwarding agents guaranteed access to a set amount of space on each flight that is paid for regardless of whether it is all occupied or not.
CMA CGM also said it has selected Groupe ECS as its general sales agent to help market its capacity, handle bookings and manage shipment processing for non-CEVA customers.
A second CMA CGM freighter will begin operating March 16, also serving the U.S. Liege, Belgium, is a busy European freight hub and the airport is one of the largest in the area in terms of cargo volume.
“The launch of CMA CGM Air Cargo represents a significant event in developing a comprehensive range of logistics services for the CMA CGM Group’s clients,” the unit’s director, Xavier Eiglier, said in a statement. These initial destinations in the United States demonstrate our desire to offer our clients international coverage, serving the biggest freight airports in the heart of major economic areas.”
Air Belgium, a small startup airline focused on tourist flights to the Caribbean, recently formed a cargo division that outsources crews and maintenance support to companies with aircraft.
With passenger travel severely curtailed by COVID-19 border restrictions and low demand, several airlines have turned to cargo as a way to diversify their business.
Last year, Sun Country and regional feeder airline Mesa Air Group began hauling freight for Amazon Air (NASDAQ: AMZN) and DHL Express, respectively, with Boeing 737 aircraft. SmartLynx Airlines’s subsidiary in Malta is launching a cargo service with some of the first converted Airbus A321 freighters. And Air Canada is in the processing of building a fleet of pure freighter aircraft.