Watch Now

Ocean carrier MSC launching cargo airline with Atlas Air

Private-label airline to utilize 4 777-200 freighters, complement ocean service

The MSC Julie enters the Port of Houston. Mediterranean Shipping Co. is expanding into air cargo. (Photo: Jim Allen)

Mediterranean Shipping Co., the largest container line in the world, announced Monday it will launch an air cargo airline next year in partnership with freighter operator Atlas Air, joining rivals Maersk and CMA CGM as ocean carriers adding private airlines to diversify their service capabilities.

MSC said Atlas Air (NASDAQ: AAWW) will operate four branded Boeing 777-200 freighters under a long-term contract that bundles leasing of the aircraft with full services, including crew, flight planning and maintenance. MSC Air Cargo will begin commercial service in early 2023 with a single aircraft. It will be responsible for selling the cargo space and determining the routes flown. 

Atlas Air is allocating four 777-200 cargo jets it ordered from Boeing in January to the MSC Air Cargo venture. It said the first plane is scheduled for delivery in the fourth quarter this year. The remaining aircraft will be received during 2023.

MSC said it appointed Jannie Davel, a former Emirates SkyCargo and DHL executive who most recently served as managing director-commercial at Delta Air Lines’ (NYSE: DAL) cargo division, to develop its air cargo business and roster. 

“This is our first step into this market and we plan to continue exploring various avenues to develop air cargo in a way that complements our core business of container shipping,” said MSC Chief Executive Officer Soren Toft in a news release.

Rendering of an MSC Air Cargo 777-200 freighter. (Image: MSC)

The 777-200 is a large, twin-engine jet capable of hauling a maximum payload of 116 tons on long intercontinental trips.

“We are pleased to welcome MSC as a new customer and look forward to supporting MSC as it develops its airfreight business and further enhances its position as a global leader in transportation and logistics,” said John Dietrich, president and CEO of Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings. 

MSC made a joint bid with Lufthansa in January for ITA Airways, the state-owned Italian passenger carrier that emerged from the Alitalia bankruptcy. The Italian government did not accept the offer and is reportedly negotiating with other groups.

Ocean trend to air cargo

MSC is the latest ocean shipping line, flush with cash from more than two years of record profits, to offer air cargo service. The trend is part of a larger strategic shift by megacarriers to be one-stop logistics shops with the ability to provide integrated ocean, air, trucking, warehousing, freight forwarding and last-mile e-commerce delivery for large customers.

MSC is privately held and doesn’t report its finances, but using other carriers as a proxy would suggest that it has a very strong balance sheet it can deploy for investment purposes. 

Maersk is doubling down on air cargo this year after operating Star Air for many years as a contract airline for express carriers such as UPS and Royal Mail. It has reorganized the operation into Maersk Air Cargo, which is focused on selling air cargo services directly to customers. It recently acquired Senator International, a German freight forwarder that specializes in airfreight. Maersk Air Cargo is also making an aggressive push to enter the U.S. market with the purchase of three new 767-300 freighters from Boeing, which it is transferring to Amerijet to operate on its behalf between Asia and the U.S., as originally reported by FreightWaves

Last year Maersk leased three additional three Boeing 767-300 converted freighters and ordered two 777 long-haul cargo jets from Boeing. 

Meanwhile, French shipping giant CMA CGM last year launched an all-cargo airline and now has four Airbus A330 widebody jets. It also ordered four 777 freighters from Boeing, two of which were delivered during the summer. Last November it placed an order with Airbus for four A350 extra-large aircraft and in May formed a cargo alliance with Air France-KLM.

The company also owns Ceva Logistics, one of the largest contract logistics providers in the world.

Maersk is different from MSC Air Cargo and CMA CGM Air Cargo because it has its own air operating certificate, pilots and mechanics, and owns most of its aircraft, making it a pure airline.

Other ocean carriers with long-standing air cargo operations are Taiwan-based Evergreen, which owns EVA Air, and Tokyo-based NYK Line, the parent company of Nippon Cargo Airlines.

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.

Subscribe to the American Shipper Air newsletter


Maersk developing S. Korea-S. Carolina air cargo route

Shipping line Maersk taps Amerijet for trans-Pacific air cargo expansion

Ocean carrier MSC, Lufthansa in bid to buy Italian airline ITA

F3: Future of Freight Festival


The second annual F3: Future of Freight Festival will be held in Chattanooga, “The Scenic City,” this November. F3 combines innovation and entertainment — featuring live demos, industry experts discussing freight market trends for 2024, afternoon networking events, and Grammy Award-winning musicians performing in the evenings amidst the cool Appalachian fall weather.

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. 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]