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Maersk Air Cargo explores China-UK route

Competitor Mediterranean Shipping Co. adds 3rd airfreighter

A Boeing 767-300 freighter in the Maersk Air Cargo livery is offloaded at Bournemouth Airport in the United Kingdom. (Photo: Bournemouth Airport)

The air cargo unit of Maersk is conducting a two-month trial of a new route that would establish a gateway in the United Kingdom for receiving e-commerce goods from China as part of the ocean shipping company’s transformation into a one-stop shop for logistics. 

Freighter operator Maersk Air Cargo is flying once a week through the end of the year between Hangzhou, China, and Bournemouth Airport using a Boeing 767-300 medium widebody freighter to test the trade lane’s viability and suitability of an alternative airport outside London, the parties announced Tuesday.

Aircraft tracking site Flightradar24 shows Maersk Air Cargo actually began operating the flights on Oct. 30 via its hub in Billund, Denmark, with a technical stop in Navoi, Uzbekistan.

The temporary flight provides online sellers extra airlift during the peak shipping season that coincides with European holidays and could be continued in the future, according to Maersk.

Bournemouth Airport’s in-house ground service company Cargo First is in charge of loading and unloading the Maersk aircraft.

The destination adds to Maersk Air Cargo’s network connecting China, South Korea, Europe and the United States.

“We’re delighted that Maersk has chosen Bournemouth for this new route as we grow our ambition to become the U.K.’s number one entry and exit point for time critical cargo. We now have 500 metric tons of weekly import capacity operating between China and Bournemouth as more customers take advantage of our location, lack of slot constraints and ‘One Team’ integrated approach across all airport and cargo handling operations,” said Steve Gill, managing director of Bournemouth Airport.

Ocean shipping giant Maersk incorporated air cargo to its integrated logistics strategy in early 2022 by expanding the scope of an existing cargo airline, beyond being a provider of dedicated transport for UPS and Royal Mail in Europe, to carry goods for its own customers. It acquired extra aircraft and Senator International, a large air forwarding company based in Germany, to give shippers an air option, in addition to ocean, trucking, rail, warehousing and import/export services. Maersk Air Freight, the agency within Maersk Logistics that arranges shipment itineraries for businesses, utilizes the capacity of Maersk Air Cargo, charter aircraft under its control and regular commercial airlift.

Executives have set a goal of carrying about one-third of the company’s annual air tonnage within its own controlled freight network through a combination of owned and leased aircraft. 

In March, Maersk introduced cargo service between Billund Airport and Hangzhou in response to increased demand and now offers six weekly flights. Maersk Air Cargo made its debut on Oct. 30, 2022, launching service between Seoul, South Korea, and Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (GSP) in South Carolina. Since then the network has expanded to include multiple flights per week connecting Shenyang, China, and Greenville-Spartanburg, as well as Hangzhou and Maersk’s other U.S. hub at Chicago Rockford International Airport (RFD). The Shenyang and Hangzhou flights funnel through Seoul. 

Maersk Air Cargo Network

Frankfurt Hahn to Greenville-Spartanburg AirportFive flights per week
Frankfurt Hahn to Chicago Rockford AirportTwo flights per week
Billund Airport to Hangzhou International AirportSix flights per week
Incheon Airport (Seoul) to Greenville-Spartanburg Three flights per week
Shenyang Airport to Greenville-SpartanburgThree flights per week
Hangzhou to Chicago Rockford AirportSix flights per week

Aircraft operations on the Asia-U.S. corridor are outsourced to Miami-based Amerijet, with Maersk Air Cargo connecting Frankfurt Airport in Germany to GSP and RFD. The U.S. hubs function as transfer points for shipments between Asia and Europe.

In July, Maersk’s air forwarding unit opened a warehouse near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to facilitate transfers between customers and commercial airlines. And in early October, it debuted a 130,000 square foot import/export gateway near Los Angeles International Airport that offers direct planeside recovery of containers using certified trucks and triples Maersk Air Cargo’s access to capacity on the U.S. West Coast.

Maersk has 22 Boeing 767-200 and -300 freighters in its fleet, although two have been out of service for several months, according to aircraft databases.

Bournemouth Airport and Cargo First are part of the privately held Regional and City Airports (RCA) group, which also owns the neighboring Cargo First Logistics Park at Bournemouth Airport, with over 1 million square feet of warehousing development potential. 

Bournemouth two years ago began a campaign to become an alternative airfreight hub. The airport is located 90 minutes from London without the congestion of Heathrow and other major airports. It touts rapid customs clearance and transit of cargo to customer collection points at the Heathrow Cargo complex as an advantage for businesses. European Cargo, a startup carrier using partially modified Airbus A340 jets that can carry small units of freight on the main deck, launched service between China and Bournemouth earlier this year in support of a Chinese customer and now operates six flights per week.

Cologne Bonn Airport

In related news, Maersk Air Freight has awarded a multiyear contract to airport services firm dnata to provide cargo handling for its charter aircraft at Cologne Bonn Airport. Dnata said its team will process 6,600 tons of cargo annually for Maersk, which organizes weekly flights between Cologne Bonn and GSP with a Boeing 747-400 freighter operated by Magma Aviation. The air logistics provider plans to increase weekly frequencies in the coming months, significantly expanding cargo capacity on the route, dnata said on Thursday.

Dnata is loading and unloading Boeing 747 freighters for Maersk Air Freight at Cologne Bonn airport. (Photo: dnata)

Dubai-based dnata, part of the Emirates Group, entered the Germany cargo market in 2022 with the acquisition of Wisskirchen Handling Services, the exclusive operator of the 129,000-square-foot Cologne Bonn Cargo Center. Dnata currently serves 20 airline customers at the airport. 

MSC Air Cargo

Meanwhile, another ocean carrier with a startup cargo airline has added a third freighter to the fleet. All-cargo operator Atlas Air said this week it has taken delivery of a 777 freighter from Boeing, the third of four it will operate on behalf of Mediterranean Shipping Co. under a long-term transportation services agreement. 

MSC Air Cargo, which sells the cargo space and determines routes, currently provides an around-the-world weekly service with stops in Mexico City; Indianapolis; Liege, Belgium; Seoul; and Xiamen, China. The new large freighter will enable MSC to add a route from Hong Kong to Dallas/Fort Worth. Atlas Air said Boeing is scheduled to deliver the fourth aircraft by the end of the year. 

Click here for more FreightWaves 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 and a Silver Medal from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government and trade coverage, and news analysis. He was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He won Environmental Journalist of the Year from the Seahorse Freight Association in 2014 and was the group's 2013 Supply Chain Journalist of the Year. In December 2022, he was voted runner up for Air Cargo Journalist by the Seahorse Freight Association. 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]