Ocean shipping giant Maersk has quietly ordered three new 767-300 freighters from Boeing and arranged with Miami-based cargo airline Amerijet to fly them on trans-Pacific routes as the company’s air cargo division moves to gain a strategic foothold in the U.S. market.
During the past eight months, Maersk has poured resources from its hyper-profitable container line business into transforming the in-house airline into a full-service air logistics provider and expanding globally beyond its traditional sphere in Europe.
Maersk will receive three 767 all-cargo jets from Boeing’s Everett, Washington, factory in 2022, and outsource their operation to Amerijet, said Maersk spokesman Povl Rasmussen. The freighters are expected to enter service this year between Asia and North America.
“As previously announced, A.P. Moller – Maersk (Maersk) is both strengthening and expanding its air freight offering,” the company said in a statement to FreightWaves. “Air freight is a crucial enabler of flexibility and agility in global supply chains as it allows our customers to tackle time-critical supply chain challenges and provides transport mode options for high value cargo. Maersk’s owned controlled capacity is designed to make supply chain journeys more resilient and intuitive.
“When deployed later this year, [the three] new 767 aircraft will be based in the U.S. and operated by Amerijet exclusively for Maersk.”
Since late March, Boeing (NYSE: BA) has conducted test flights on two of the aircraft, yet to be painted in Maersk’s design, according to plane spotters posting on Twitter and aviation enthusiast websites about flight activity at Paine Field north of Seattle.
Boeing never publicly announced the 767 sale to Maersk or listed it on its public list of aircraft orders. The planes were originally intended for another customer that backed out of the order, said a source familiar with the transactions. That explains how Maersk got its hands on the freighters so quickly instead of waiting in line for production slots.
One of the aircraft was scheduled to depart Paine Field for Miami, Amerijet’s home base, on Friday at 10:10 a.m. PST, according to flight-tracking site Flightradar24.
From ocean to major cargo airline
The Amerijet deal represents Maersk’s second initiative to access the U.S. market. It recently entered a long-term lease with Wilmington, Ohio-based Air Transport Services Group (NASDAQ: ATSG) for three 767-300 converted freighters and is expected to begin operating them on key U.S.-China routes in the second half of this year.
The Danish shipping line is making air cargo a central part of its value proposition to large customers after mostly operating Star Air since 1987 as a contract carrier for parcel-delivery companies. Earlier this year, the world’s second-largest ocean freight carrier renamed the Star Air subsidiary Maersk Air Cargo as part of a broad effort to prioritize integrated logistics offerings and sell air cargo services directly to customers under a single brand.
A major reorganization underway will have Maersk Air Cargo shift its airfreight hub from Copenhagen to Denmark’s second-largest airport, Billund. Maersk recently finalized the acquisition of German freight forwarder Senator International for $644 million. Senator’s core business is managing airfreight transportation for cargo owners. It has a significant air charter network with about 20 weekly all-cargo flights operated by contract carriers such as Magma Aviation.
Maersk (DXE: MAERB) late last year also ordered two factory-built 777 freighters, which can carry even larger loads and fly farther than 767 medium widebody aircraft.
Maersk Air Cargo operates 15 Boeing 767 freighters, most of them converted passenger aircraft, for customers such as UPS (NYSE: UPS) and Royal Mail in the U.K. Those operations are based at UPS’ hub in Cologne, Germany, and at East Midlands Airport in the U.K.
Air cargo fits with Maersk’s transformation from a pure ocean carrier to an end-to-end logistics company able to provide a suite of services and keep more of key customers’ transportation spending for itself. Depending on budget, distance, time requirements and supply chain disruptions, Maersk, the second-largest container vessel operator in the world by capacity, can move goods by ocean, air, truck and rail, and provide warehousing and customs clearance. It also is investing in e-commerce delivery.
Amerijet goes global
The Maersk partnership also represents a major milestone for Amerijet, a mid-tier cargo airline with international ambitions mostly known for regional service covering Latin America and the Caribbean, by launching it into the massive Asia trade market for the first time. In a March interview, new CEO Tim Strauss said the privately-held company was exploring the possibility of offering service between Asia and North America as soon as this summer.
It currently operates 14 767 cargo jets and six 757 converted freighter, all added in recent months. One of its main customers is DHL Express.
Company officials did not respond to requests for information about the Maersk partnership.
Amerijet, with its hub at Miami International Airport, operates scheduled service to the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico and parts of South America. In 2020, the airline launched twice weekly trans-Atlantic flights to Brussels. Amerijet also has a contract with the U.S. Postal Service to fly mail across the country and operates a flight three times per week from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to Liege, Belgium, and on to Tel Aviv, Israel.
(Correction: An earlier version of this story said an ATSG subsidiary would provide pilots for aircraft leased to Maersk Air Cargo. ATSG is only leasing the aircraft. Maersk will operate the planes itself.)