Why now is not a good time to operate all cargo airplanes

It's becoming more difficult for all cargo airplanes -or freighters -- to make money.  Photo: Your blogger.

It’s becoming more difficult for all cargo airplanes -or freighters — to make money. Photo: Your blogger.

Airlines are having a difficult time filling space on their all-cargo jets, according to a recent report in the Sydney Morning Herald.

What’s the problem?

There a couple of things, according to reporter Matt O’Sullivan. One is that the goods, such as electronics, that we love to buy are no longer manufactured in just handful of places. Instead, there are now manufacturing centers across China and Southeast Asia. If airlines want to carry the goods on freighters, they have to send their planes to cities they never would have considered a decade ago. That can work, but it’s expensive to do.

”Before, we could just sit here in Hong Kong and the trucks just came over the border from the Pearl River Delta – that was the factory of the world. It is still the factory of the world but there are now other factories of the world,” Cathay Pacific cargo director James Woodrow told the newspaper. That can mean sending freighters to Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cambodia.

The other problem? There’s an imbalance in supply and demand. All-cargo jets aren’t the only types of planes that can transport goods. Any widebody airplane can haul cargo between continents, as I noted last year in a story on how airlines transport fresh produce from L.A. to Europe and Asia. 

O’Sullivan notes that Middle Eastern and Asian carriers have been adding to their widebody passenger fleets. And while those airlines are mostly in the passenger business, cargo helps them eek out a little extra profit.

“The cheapest way to carry cargo is in the belly of passenger jets whose objective is to get their valuable human cargo to their destinations,” O’Sullivan writes. “Freight in the belly of a passenger plane is icing on the cake for an airline, often making the difference between it making money on a flight or not.”

These market changes have led Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines to park some of their planes, according to the story. “Singapore Airlines has four 747-400 jumbos parked at Victorville,” O’Sullivan writes.

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Cathay Pacific to add a fourth daily flight between LAX and Hong Kong

Cathay Pacific will add a fourth daily flight between Los Angeles and Hong Kong starting in June, the airline announced earlier this month.

The new flight, operated by a Boeing 777-300ER, leaves Los Angeles at 9:40 a.m. and arrives in Hong Kong the next day at 3:25 p.m. The return leaves Hong Kong at 9:30 a.m. and arrives in Los Angeles the same day at 7:55 a.m.

Cathay Pacific owns that route, and it’s the only airline on it. Brett Snyder, who runs the Crankyflier blog published a post Monday about how American Airlines recently decided to fly from Dallas to Hong Kong — rather than from Los Angeles — because Cathay is so dominant from here.

So American could try the LA-Hong Kong route, but it would get destroyed. It wouldn’t make much sense. It could try Chicago but it has stiff competition there as well. United flies it daily and Cathay is upping its flights to 10 per week next summer. New York is no better, and well, Miami is impossibly long. Dallas is the only option American has. Fortunately, it’s a good one.

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LAX Cargo: The top 10 freight-carrying airlines

LAX is a major cargo airport. Below are the top 10 freight-carrying airlines at LAX for the first six months of 2012, according to Los Angeles World Airports statistics. The list is compiled based on weight.

1. Federal Express           183,953 tons
2. American Airlines          46,934 tons
3. Polar Air Cargo              37,996 tons
4. Delta Air Lines               37,973 tons
5. ABX Air Inc                    34,955 tons
6. Korean Airlines              34,166 tons
7. Cathay Pacific               30,800 tons
8. Eva Airways                   30,497 tons
9. China Cargo                   29,841 tons
10. NCA                              27,862 tons

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Cathay Pacific flight attendants: A day in the life

Once again, I’m a bit wary of giving airlines free advertising here on the blog. But Cathay Pacific has put together an impressive vignette of “A Day In the Life” of one of their flight attendants.

Does it make the airline look a little too perfect? Maybe.

But it also shows the difference between flight attendants in the United States and those in Asia. For many of the Asian carriers, the job is about far more than safety. And being an international flight attendant in some places is still a big deal.

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