Kalitta Air ditches JFK, launches freighter services from smaller Stewart Airport

This week, U.S.-based ACMI and charter operator Kalitta Air launched new scheduled freighter services connecting Los Angeles International (LAX) to Stewart Airport (SWF), in support of the United States Postal Service (USPS).

Beyond the increased capacity these services provide, the new flights’ routes demonstrate the growth of a trend that started earlier this year: air cargo providers increasingly pursuing operations out of smaller and less-congested airports, rather than traditional regional gateways. 

Kalitta had initially launched two new scheduled services between LAX-New York (JFK) and LAX-Orlando (MCO) on Feb. 1, but decided to transfer the JFK service to SWF this week. 

“The reason we went to Stewart was because of the slot difficulties at JFK and [available slots] did not meet our schedule, so it was easier to move over to Stewart,” Kalitta Air vice president and general manager Pete Sanderlin told Air Cargo World.  

Kalitta will fly the LAX-SWF route five times weekly using 747 freighter aircraft on behalf of USPS. E-commerce and mail will make up most of the cargo on these transcontinental flights. Kalitta is estimated to have taken in more than $100 million for its cargo services for USPS in 2018, according to a white paper from law firm Husch Blackwell, but most of that service involves contracts the carrier has with the U.S. military to carry mail to the Middle East. Sanderlin told Air Cargo World that Kalitta does not currently operate additional freighter service for USPS within the U.S. 

This is not the first time Kalitta has confronted the issue of slot congestion at airports. At the start of 2019, the ACMI and charter operator filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation against Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS) regarding the withholding of slots by the airport. As of April, however, AMS approved its new local rule for airfreight with the intent to alleviate the effects of slot scarcity at the airport. 

For the larger air cargo industry, slot congestion is no new challenge, although air cargo providers are approaching the issue with a variety of methods. Some airports in Europe, such as Frankfurt (FRA) and Brussels (BRU), have formed air cargo communities with forums to discuss and propose solutions to these challenges.  

Ultimately, however, improved and expanded infrastructure alleviates current capacity issues for anticipated future growth. Airports worldwide in countries such as ChinaSaudi Arabia and Vietnam also face and are working to resolve these issues either through expansion at existing airports or the construction of new airports. 

Despite these efforts, there has been an increase in air cargo providers moving from larger to newer or smaller airports. Over the past year, several air cargo providers, including AirBridgeCargo, have selected hub locations at smaller, more cargo-focused airports, while others, like Amazon, have avoided operations at major airports, instead choosing the flexibility and capacity offered at less-busy airports. Kalitta’s most recent move to SWF continues this trend. 

SWF is located in southern New York state on 2,400 acres of land, around 80 miles north of JFK, and provides access to multimodal transportation along the U.S. eastern seaboard. In 2018, SWF handled over 22,000 tonnes of cargo, including oversized freight, express packages and livestock. The airport has 537,000 square feet of air cargo facilities and hosts regularly scheduled flights by FedEx and UPS, as well as DHL’s trucking operations. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also has an inspection facility at the airport. 

While SWF does not command anywhere near the same volume of cargo as JFK – which ranked No. 22 on our list of top 25 airports in 2018 by handling over 1.5 million tonnes of cargo, although SWF does offer flexibility for slots and space for expansion of facilities. SWF is also currently constructing a permanent U.S. Customs and Border Protection federal inspection station set to be completed by the first quarter of 2021 that will allow the airport to handle both domestic and international flights. 

SWF said that Kalitta Air’s new service is expected to increase cargo handled at the airport by 25% and create 790 jobs within the first year of operation. 

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