The changing ACMI landscape

Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings has nine 747-8 Freighters, and as of this week all nine are operating for ACMI customers. But the placement of the ninth unit in an ACMI contract with Hong Kong-based BST Logistics is interesting not just because it means Atlas now has all nine of its new 747-8Fs placed in ACMI contracts, but also for what it says about the way the air freight industry is changing.


In the past, the customer that ACMI-leased a big freighter aircraft was almost always an airline that either needed one or two freighters beyond those already in its fleet and used ACMI-leased lift while waiting for delivery of its own new freighters, or perhaps an airline that was debating the acquisition of freighters and used an ACMI lease as a way to test the waters. But in recent years Atlas’ ACMI customer mix has changed dramatically, and now includes a broad mix of airlines, forwarders, charter brokers, and, through a joint venture, one of the big three integrated express operators.


Atlas does not publicize much about its customers, but the chart at right shows our best guess regarding the placement of aircraft among the company’s ACMI contracts. It shows that of the 22 freighters currently operating in ACMI leases, eight (41%) are with what might be termed traditional airline customers, four (18%) are with forwarders/logistics companies and charter brokers, and nine (41%) are operated for DHL, mostly through the Polar Air Cargo jv in which DHL holds a 49% stake.

The categories are somewhat arbitrary. Astral Aviation, for example, operates in partnership with UK-based ANA Airline management, and BST Logistics is a subsidiary of China-based Navitrans. British Airways World Cargo is now part of IAG Cargo and, strictly speaking leases the three 747-8Fs not from Atlas, but from UK-based Global Supply Systems, in which Atlas is a 49% shareholder. Likewise, the relationship between AAWW and DHL is more complicated than a simple ACMI lessor/lessee relationship. But the overall picture is clear enough: Over the last five years, Atlas has broadened its ACMI customer base to the point that airlines now account for just 40% of the business.


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