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Canada’s Three Largest Airlines Focus On Air Cargo

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Air cargo business in Canada is growing, and the three biggest carriers are investing accordingly.  Two of them – Air Canada and WestJet – are passenger airlines that are in the process of establishing all-cargo divisions with aircraft dedicated to carrying freight on the main deck.

Air Canada is Canada’s largest air cargo provider as measured by cargo capacity, with a presence in over fifty countries and self-handled hubs in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Chicago, London and Frankfurt.  The airline also recently unveiled an expanded schedule for its fledgling freight network, targetting the Europe / Canada lane.

With the downturn in passenger traffic due to COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021, passenger aircraft on cargo missions played a key role in this drive for a greater stake in the airfreight sector.  To achieve this, Air Canada removed seats from eleven wide body aircraft to use them as ‘Charlies’, as the cabin freighters have been called internally.  The resurgence of the passenger business has seen most of these return to their original configuration, leaving just one ‘Charlie’ in action, primarily on transpacific routes.  It will cease cargo operations before the end of the year.

While Air Canada was the first carrier in North America to return to a combination passenger-and-freighter fleet, it also intends to invest in more all-cargo aircraft.  Buoyed by 42% growth in cargo revenues, the airline is moving to expand its fleet with new production freighters.  It is set to receive two new B767-300F factory built freighters this year, in addition to plans to convert eight 767s from passenger into all-cargo configuration.

Calgary-based WestJet expects to have its first two 737-800 standard jets converted for cargo in revenue service by July 1 or sooner.  Operating from a base at Toronto Pearson International Airport, WestJet Cargo intends to start with limited charter work, transition to regular, scheduled flights between major cities within Canada and eventually blend in ad hoc charters and transborder flights to the U.S. and Caribbean, especially on weekends and other off-peak periods.

Cargojet, as the name implies, is a cargo operator that is also significantly expanding its fleet.  Cargojet is investing in eight Boeing 777 passenger planes that will be converted to a pure cargo configuration, quadrupling its original order, according to a recent management document presented to shareholders and industry sources.  These freighters are expected to be delivered between 2023 and 2025, and these long-range aircraft will open the door for Cargojet to handle more intercontinental traffic.

For domestic and international shippers, the growing fleets mean more intra-Canada and cross-border capacity for all types of commodities, from e-commerce merchandise to perishable goods, pharmaceuticals and general products.

For more information, contact David Lychek, Director – Ocean & Air Services.

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