Air India’s Cargo Expansion: A Strategic Takeoff

In the ever-evolving aviation landscape, Air India is not just soaring in the passenger domain but also strategically expanding its presence in the lucrative cargo sector. With a goal of securing a more substantial market share in the international cargo arena, Air India has recently taken significant steps to bolster its cargo operations. In this comprehensive article, we will delve into the details of Air India’s cargo ambitions, exploring its initiatives, partnerships, and the transformation of its cargo division.

Setting the Stage

As Air India takes flight towards a brighter cargo future, let’s first understand the backdrop. India, with its burgeoning economy and global trade aspirations, presents a vast opportunity for cargo operations. However, despite Indian carriers holding a commendable 44% share of the country’s international passenger traffic, the cargo scene has been dominated by foreign carriers, commanding over 87% of the market.

In the April-June quarter, Air India’s share of India’s international air freight stood at 6.7%, ranking it fifth behind industry giants like Emirates, Qatar Airways, Aerologic, and Cathay Pacific. This dynamic has prompted Air India to reevaluate its cargo strategy.

A Cargo Metamorphosis

Cargo Hub: Delhi Takes Center Stage

Delhi has emerged as the pivotal cargo hub for Air India, connecting vital routes to the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia. The airline has recently unveiled a feeder service designed to transport bonded cargo from various regions of the country to Delhi, utilizing both road and air transport. This innovative approach not only streamlines cargo operations but also enhances the outbound cargo load from Delhi.

Currently, Air India’s bonded truck service operates on nine routes, with ambitious plans to expand this network to an impressive 200 routes. This expansion aims to benefit shippers and cargo agents, reducing operational costs, and transportation cycle times, and elevating overall service levels. Notably, Air India maintains an open-door policy for collaborations with reputed bonded trucking operators in India, fostering a symbiotic relationship within the industry.

Pharmaceuticals: A Temperature-Sensitive Embrace

Recognizing the growing importance of pharmaceutical cargo, Air India has joined forces with Envirotainer, a renowned specialist in pharma containerization. This strategic partnership focuses on handling critical temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical products with utmost precision.

The Envirotainer solution is nothing short of a technological marvel, equipped with 18 integrated sensors that meticulously monitor vital aspects during shipping. These include location tracking, internal and external temperature monitoring, battery levels, humidity levels, door openings, cargo loading, and real-time GPS tracking. In essence, this cutting-edge container ensures the safe and secure transportation of pharmaceuticals, marking a significant advancement in cargo technology.

With an impressive inventory of over 7,000 containers, Envirotainer collaborates with more than 100 airlines and 40 logistics companies. In 2022 alone, they successfully managed nearly 740 million doses of pharmaceuticals, underscoring the critical role they play in the global pharmaceutical supply chain.

Global Endeavors in Pharma Cargo

It’s worth noting that Air India’s foray into pharmaceutical cargo aligns with a broader trend among global airlines. Cathay Pacific, for instance, has been offering pharma companies an array of packaging choices and expeditious ground-handling services since November. Emirates SkyCargo employs specially designed thermal covers to shield delicate cargo from adverse environmental conditions, including heat, cold, dust, and humidity.

While these initiatives are undoubtedly game-changers, it’s essential to acknowledge that bonded truck services and temperature-controlled solutions are not new concepts. They were introduced nearly two decades ago, primarily to assist exporters and Indian workers in the Gulf region who wished to send cargo to their hometowns. Various international airlines and key Indian airports, such as Bengaluru and Delhi, have established partnerships with truck operators to provide bonded cargo services.


In conclusion, Air India’s strategic manoeuvring in the cargo sector is a testament to its commitment to diversify and expand its operations. By enhancing its cargo capabilities, forging partnerships, and embracing cutting-edge technology, the airline is poised to make a significant impact in India’s international air freight landscape. As the airline continues its transformation journey, it is likely to ascend to even greater heights in the global cargo industry.

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