The quiet rise of forwarder-controlled networks

Beginning this week, Germany-based forwarder and logistics services provider Senator International launched its own-controlled air network operations into full-swing, connecting Greenville/Spartanburg (GSP) in the US with Munich (MUC) and Frankfurt Hahn (HHN) in Germany. The “Atlantic Bridge” uses a 747-400F ACMI-leased from Air Atlanta Icelandic. After Amazon’s deal to ACMI-lease twenty 767Fs each from ATSG, and Atlas Air Worldwide was announced earlier this year, any discussion regarding the future of own-controlled operations quickly turns to other large retailers like Alibaba and Wal-Mart. This new operation however, is an indication that freight forwarders should not be disregarded.

Senator’s ACMI-leased 747-400F.

With Senator’s new air bridge, the forwarder becomes only the second to launch its own-controlled operations, after Switzerland-based Panalpina. Although significant industrial bases surround Munich, Frankfurt and Greenville, the Atlantic bridge is seen primarily as connecting two of BMW’s key manufacturing hubs and catering to the automotive industry. GSA “Globe Air Cargo” will market and handle leftover cargo space, for which Senator promises neutral handling. When the freighter is not flying between Greenville and Germany, it will be available for charter service, with capacity marketed by Chapman Freeborn.

Autoparts are not the only commodity demanding charters. Although not quite an “own-controlled” network in its current arrangement, this summer fashion imports prompted US-based Trinity Logistics to regularize weekly charters between Colombo Bandaranaike airport (CMB), and Columbus Rickenbacker (LCK) with Etihad Cargo flights. Columbus, Ohio is home to many fashion retailers like Gap and Abercrombie, and the flights channel exports from Sri Lanka directly into Rickenbacker on Etihad Cargo 777F and 747F aircraft.

These developments follow in the footsteps of Panalpina which has been experimenting with chartered and leased-aircraft operations involving MD-11Fs, 747-400Fs and 747-8Fs aircraft since 1990.  At present, the Swiss forwarder ACMI-leases a 747-8F from Atlas Air which makes direct calls at the following five airports (see chart  below):

Panalpina’s “Charter Network” as of September 2015.  Source: Panalpina

Meanwhile, Panalpina continues to charter continues to charter a MD-11F from Ethiopian Airlines to fly between Luxembourg (LUX) and Pointe-Noire in the Congo (PNR). Like other forwarders, it also charters additional aircraft on an ad-hoc basis. As leasing arrangements have changed over time, Panalpina’s own-controlled network has handled as much as 20% of its airfreight each year, and as of 2015, handled about 15%.

Even though the twice-weekly flights bridging the Atlantic are unlikely to have a major disruptive impact on the cargo traffic of existing scheduled carriers serving destinations in the same catchment areas, it’s a sign that forwarders themselves are increasingly willing to create their own capacity if existing flights and capacity are insufficient.

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