Air Canada Cargo launches e-commerce service; strengthens freighter capacity

Air Canada (AC) has announced that it is entering the e-commerce market with a dedicated domestic service and, at the same time, is also looking to boost the capacity for its international cargo.

The airline is ramping up its cargo flights with widebody passenger aircraft and passenger freighters, and is reactivating two parked 787s for cargo missions and removing seats from five more widebodies to boost its cargo capacity.

“We continue to see extremely high demand, but we are full. We got approval to take two 787s out of the desert next month, and we will take out the seats from three 777s and two A330s.”

~Jason Berry, Vice President- Cargo, Air Canada

Air Canada was one of the first few airlines that took the decision to remove seats to increase payload capacity. It has been using four 777s and three A330s in this configuration, as well as many other widebody passenger aircraft.

The airline made the announcement of the cargo capacity expansion just three weeks after management revealed that it intended to have seven converted 767-300ER freighters in operation towards the end of next year.

Berry informed that the first two will be converted by ATSG under a sale-leaseback agreement, but the other five will remain in the airline’s possession. The first is due to head out for conversion this week, ready for service in August, with the second expected to re-join the fleet by October.

Due to the robust demand AC is currently flying more than 220 cargo missions a week with passenger aircraft – significantly more than during the peak season, when it was running about 150 cargo flights a week.

“By May, we’ll be doing 250-260 a week,” said Mr Berry, “we know the forwarding community continues to need more lift.”

AC Cargo has been doing cargo charters with passenger planes, but primarily aims to run a steady network that offers consistent flights to the market, he stressed.

He further expects the demand to remain strong, citing low inventory levels that should warrant prolonged restocking. Moreover, problems in the ocean cargo sector are reinforcing the need for airfreight capacity, he added.

The capacity expansion comes as the company ushers in its new e-commerce service.

According to Mr Berry, after recent pilot trials, the commercial launch came in the past week, albeit without much fanfare, but initial reactions have been positive and indicate strong interest in the market.

The offering by AC uses a platform developed in close collaboration with SmartKargo. The platform ties into the websites of merchants that use the service which show up alongside other shipping choices (such as Canada Post, couriers and fulfilment providers) during the check-out process when consumers get to select their preferred delivery option.

Leveraging the service AC’s domestic network, will be able to offer faster transit times than the competition, Mr Berry said. The carrier has lined up ground service partners for the first and final mile segments.

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