Florida-based regional carrier Silver Airways plans to introduce ATR freighters to its fleet and begin cargo operations later this fall.
The passenger airline has quietly been recruiting staff for its freighter operation since earlier this year, with a base to be located at Fort Worth Alliance Airport (AFW). At present, the carrier primarily operates flights within the state of Florida and to the Caribbean.
In a recent job posting, the airline outlined plans to expand into the cargo business “with a dedicated fleet of ATR 500 freighters scheduled to start operations in September 2021,” but did not specify whether these will be ATR 42-500Fs or ATR 72-500Fs. Nor has Silver confirmed the source of the freighters it plans to introduce, or the full scope of its commercial plans — whether it will market capacity on its own, or operate aircraft on an ACMI or CMI basis.
There are a few sources for used ATR freighters or fresh passengers-to-freighter conversions. Hawaiian Airlines recently shuttered its dedicated freighter operation and plans to sell four ATR 72-200 freighters owned by its subsidiary, Airline Contract Maintenance and Equipment Inc., Hawaiian confirmed to Cargo Facts. The four freighters were converted to large cargo door configuration by IPR Conversions, and include one (389, ex-ASL Airlines) that never entered service for Hawaiian.
IPR Conversions and Aeroconseil, meanwhile, continue to convert ATR aircraft to freighter configuration. IPR holds STCs for bulk load and large cargo door conversions for the ATR 42/72-500, while Aeroconseil’s program does not include a large cargo door.
Silver introduced its first ATR aircraft in 2018 as part of a plan to modernize its Saab 340 regional fleet, and currently has four ATR 72-600s and seven ATR 42-600s, with more on the way. Silver Airways did not respond to a request for comment.
Other passenger-heavy U.S. airlines that have diversified or are growing their cargo operations include, Sun Country Airlines, Mesa Airlines and iAero Airways, all of which had little to no freighter exposure before the pandemic.
Silver Airways’ extension into freighter operations follows its fight for survival during the pandemic. Company CEO Steve Rossum was a vocal proponent for government support of aviation and Silver Airways. In a letter submitted on March 16, 2020, Rossum pleaded with local and federal officials to “provide critical and immediate financial aid required in order for the airline to survive the most dire crisis the industry has ever faced and upon which whose continued operation depends.”
Silver received a $10 million loan backed by the U.S. Small Business Association’s Paycheck Protection Program. As of March 22, 2021, Silver Airways had also received $14 million in Payroll Support as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, according to a briefing from the U.S. Treasury.
Apart from Silver Airways, there are only four other ATR operators in the U.S.: Empire Airlines, Mountain Air Cargo and Gulf & Caribbean Cargo, which fly FedEx Express aircraft, and Blue Ridge Aero Services, which carries out aerial surveys.
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