CMA CGM, the fourth-largest container shipping line and parent of CEVA Logistics, now owns a cargo airline. The move bears similarities to what Amazon.com (NASDQ: AMZN) did five years ago when it launched a private airline to help support its rapidly growing e-commerce business.
The French shipping company, based in Marseille, announced Friday it was diversifying its transportation and logistics portfolio by creating an airfreight division. It has purchased four Airbus A330-200 freighters, which can carry up to 60 tons, and is outsourcing flying to an unnamed European airline.
Signs point to that airline being Air Belgium, a small passenger airline that began operating between Belgium and the Caribbean in 2018. Two weeks ago, Air Belgium announced it would add four cargo aircraft to its fleet, with plans to have six in operation by the end of the year. The first two aircraft are expected to begin flying next month from Liege Airport, a major air cargo airport that has done better than most European competitors during the huge industry downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Air Belgium spokeswoman Catherine Haquenne declined to provide more details at the time. The Loadstar had reported the four aircraft to be operated by Air Belgium were previously with Qatar Airways Cargo.
Qatar Airways Cargo has moved to an all-Boeing fleet and replaced the A330 freighters with 777 freighters. Spokesman Kamal Hassan confirmed the four aircraft exited the fleet on Jan. 31 but declined to name the buyer. Qatar Airways planned to phase out the planes last year but held onto them longer because of the urgent need to move personal protective equipment and other critical aid during the pandemic, he said in an email.
The aircraft are very new for used freighters, having entered service between 2014 and 2016.
Air Belgium founder Niky Terzakis knows something about air cargo having run TNT Airways for 15 years. TNT Airways was a subsidiary of TNT Express, which was acquired by FedEx Corp. (NYSE: FDX). European competition authorities required TNT to divest the airline, which was sold to ASL Aviation Group, which operates from Liege Airport too.
CMA CGM also owns CEVA Logistics, a top 15 third-party logistics provider measured by gross revenue. Having its own airline gives CEVA access to direct capacity instead of having to compete with shippers for flight access at passenger and all-cargo airlines, which currently do not have enough supply to meet demand.
CMA CGM Chairman and CEO Rodolphe Saadé said the new air cargo division is a response to customer demand for “agile logistics solutions.”
CMA CGM began dabbling in air cargo last September when it bought a third of Groupe Dubreuil Aéro and essentially became a general sales agent for the company’s two leisure airlines, marketing the bellyhold space of their aircraft to shippers and managing cargo operations.
Amazon now operates about 75 aircraft but contracts their operation to cargo carriers. Amazon leases all its aircraft, but recently bought nearly a dozen passenger planes for the first time and plans to convert them to freighters.