Which company is behind ATSG’s ‘Project Aerosmith’?

ABX 767-200SF on approach-samllIn September of this year, U.S.-based aircraft lessor Air Transport Services Group (ATSG) launched what it called a “trial ACMI express network” at an underused cargo airport in Ohio, leasing four 767 freighters to an unnamed client. With the express companies FedEx, UPS and DHL all repeatedly denying that they are involved in the operation, evidence is mounting that the sortation hub is the latest step by e-commerce giant Amazon to enter the airfreight logistics business.

Air Cargo World’s sister publication Cargo Facts has long speculated that Amazon was the mastermind of this mysterious “trial” operation, considering the enormous financial investment involved in leasing at least four widebodies – two from ATSG’s ABX Air and two from Air Transport International – and establishing a modern express freight processing center at Ohio’s Wilmington Airpark (ILN). But earlier this week, chatter about Amazon increased after a well-researched report was published in Motherboard, a science and technology channel run by Vice Media, claiming that Seattle-based Amazon was most likely ATSG’s cloak-and-dagger client. It even has a code name, Motherboard said: “Project Aerosmith.”

Located at the 1.1 million-square-foot former DHL facility, the Project Aerosmith hub ILN operates four flights a day to and from Allentown (ABE) in Pennsylvania; Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW); Oakland (OAK) and Ontario (ONT) in California; and Tampa (TPA) in Florida. Most interestingly, these locations are all within a 90-minute trucking distance of Amazon’s key regional sortation centers in San Bernardino, Calif.; Middlesex, N.J.; Swedesboro, N.J.; Davenport, Fla.; and Dallas, Texas.

According to the Motherboard article, Amazon would neither confirm nor deny that it was involved in Aerosmith, but said that, “We’ve long utilized air capacity through a variety of great partners to transport packages and we expect that to continue.” The regional airports served by ILN also refused to comment on the name of the client, the article said.

The ILN facility has a capacity of about a million express packages per day and has its own MRO operation. It is also conveniently located to cover the Ohio cities of Cincinnati and Columbus. For the last two years, Amazon has been building out its network of sortation centers, often located nearby or adjacent to their fulfillment centers that support seven-days-a-week home delivery service.

The e-commerce giant now has about 20 sortation locations in the U.S., with more on the way. In fact, two more Amazon facilities are being planned outside Columbus – a 1 million-square-foot facility at the Rickenbacker Global Logistics Park, expected to be operational by third-quarter 2016, followed by an 800,000-square-foot center, just 35 miles away, in the town of Etna, Ohio.

Until official word comes from the hush-hush partners, of course, none of this makes the alleged Amazon-ATSG connection a certainty. However, circumstantial evidence and common sense are making a pretty good case that Amazon – and possibly Aerosmith –  will make some bold express logistics moves in the U.S. next year.

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