Top 10 air cargo stories of 2019

Following a year of ups and downs, it can be useful to pause for a look back to gain some perspective and anticipate the trends that may dominate the year ahead. In this final list of the year, we at Air Cargo World invite our readers to join us in reflecting on those stories that dominated the headlines for 2019. 

Read on for the top 10 air cargo stories of 2019…

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

With several major airports facing congestion issues in the U.S. and abroad, some cargo operators are turning to smaller airports to escape the congestion. In May, Kalitta Air did just that with the launch of a new scheduled freighter service connecting Los Angeles (LAX) to Stewart Airport (SWF) for the U.S. Postal Service. The service had initially been between LAX and New York’s JFK Airport, but Kalitta switched to SWF “because of the slot difficulties at JFK,” Kalitta’s vice president and general manager Pete Sanderlin said. 

#9: Amazon Air begins ops at gateway airports, moves some 767F ops away from Atlas Air 

During 2019, Amazon Air flights began operating at several new gateway airports, including St. Louis (STL) and the Fort Worth Alliance Airport (AFW). The e-tailer also made a significant change in its operations, shifting several of its leased 767 freighters that had been operated by Atlas Air Worldwide subsidiary carriers from those carriers to Air Transport International, an affiliate carrier of ATSG. Amazon continued to make big aviation news late in 2019 with the surprising selection of a regional passenger carrier – Sun Country Air – for the operation of ten of its 737 freighters. 

#8: FedEx’s e-commerce loss appears to be UPS’ gain 

The past year saw a new contributor join the Air Cargo World team, as Cathy Roberson launched a weekly column. Speaking of Amazon, in Roberson’s close examination of FedEx and UPS results, she noted that UPS appeared to pick up the Amazon business cut by FedEx earlier in the year. How that decision will continue to shape UPS and FedEx operations in 2020 remains to be seen. 

#7: Are challenges at New Istanbul Airport threatening carriers’ cargo operations? 

The massive New Istanbul Airport (IST) opened for commercial operations during 2019, but early indications were that the new airport faced some operational challenges. Local media attributed several redirected flights to weather conditions at the airport, which also led to an estimated 74% of scheduled departures to be delayed as of June 10. Since then, operations appear to have become more streamlined, with flightradar24 showing 42% of departures delayed as of Dec. 31.  

#6: Volga-Dnepr gets US approval for 777X engine charters 

A recall of the GE9X engines used in the production of 777X aircraft led to production stoppages of the new aircraft type. The massive engines required particularly large aircraft for delivery, and Russian carrier Volga-Dnepr Airlines received special emergency exemptions from the U.S. Department of Transportation for three AN-124-100 freighter charter flights.  

Emirates Boeing 777-300ER photographed on Aug. 17, 2015, from Wolfe Air Aviation’s Lear 25B.

#5: Emirates optimizes DXB-KBL route capacity with new strategy 

After challenging weather conditions at Kabul International Airport (KBL) impacted Emirates Airlines’ cargo operations there, the carrier optimized its capacity on the route from Dubai (DXB) to KBL with a new strategy. Using a 777, Emirates was able to alter its approach, allowing for an “easier climb gradient” and improving navigational accuracy. Early in 2019, Emirates announced that it had employed the technique successfully for three months, boosting capacity into Kabul during low-cloud conditions by 250 tonnes. 

#4: Mercado Libre and Azul Cargo Express partner to expand 24-hour deliveries in Brazil 

Following a string of aviation partnerships with e-commerce entities, Argentine e-tailer Mercado Libre partnered with Azul Cargo Express to facilitate 24-hour e-commerce deliveries throughout Brazil. The deal made Azul Mercado Libre’s exclusive air partner in the country. Might we see more such deals in 2020 as e-commerce giants compete to establish smooth logistics operations? 

#3: WestJet doubles down on cargo, insources domestic sales ops as international network grows 

In a major departure for the Calgary-headquartered airline, WestJet Cargo transitioned its domestic cargo sales operations to a newly established in-house sales team. The carrier stepped up its internal cargo team to boost visibility of its cargo operations in 2019, bringing the division under the “commercial” umbrella, moving it out from the “operations” unit where it had previously been positioned within the corporate structure. 

#2: NTSB hints at ‘pilot error’ as contributor to Atlas 767F crash 

Early indications following the crash of Atlas Air Flight 3591 in February suggested “pilot error” may have contributed to the fatal crash outside of Houston, Texas. Before the 737 MAX dominated headlines, public attention was held by the tragic crash that killed two crew members and a third pilot riding in the jump seat. 

And the No. 1 most-read story in Air Cargo World during 2019 was… 

#1: Sudden descent of Atlas Flight 3591 still a mystery in fatal Houston crash 

Our top story of the year covered a tragic moment in air cargo history that struck early in the year, when Atlas Air Flight 3591 crashed in the marshes outside of Houston, Texas. The National Transportation Safety Board released the latest records of the flight earlier this month, with the board’s formal conclusions on the cause of the crash expected in 2020. 

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