Maersk Air Cargo, the in-house airline of container shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk, plans to inaugurate scheduled airfreight service in the U.S. market this month from South Korea to Rockford International Airport in Illinois and Greenville-Spartanburg airport in South Carolina, FreightWaves has learned.
Meanwhile, Maersk has opened a freight station near Chicago O’Hare International Airport to support its aggressive growth plans for air cargo business in the United States, part of a broader transformation into a one-source provider of logistics services.
Maersk said Wednesday it established a 61,000-square-foot cargo terminal near O’Hare to facilitate quicker shipment flows for customers at one of the nation’s largest international air cargo crossroads. The warehouse will also serve as a staging point for Maersk’s dedicated freighter hub at Rockford, about an hour’s drive west of O’Hare.
Acting in the capacity of a freight forwarder, Maersk has designed the Chicago airfreight gateway to offer direct recovery of freight at O’Hare as it comes off the aircraft in pallets or containers. Logistics companies usually collect commercial shipments after they have been processed through a transfer facility operated by an airline’s ground-handling agent but often make arrangements for direct truck collection when full charters loaded with their own freight are involved.
“We want to expand our air freight presence and logistics services in key locations, and [Wednesday’s] Chicago inauguration is an important step in our integrated offering to customers,” said Mike Meierkort, regional head of Maersk North America Logistics and Services, in a news release. “We want to create more routing options and flexibility for customers looking to improve their air cargo supply chains. Our new Chicago Air Freight Gateway offers an integrated supply chain solution to time critical shipments and order fulfillment deadlines.”
The Chicago gateway is a logical step for Maersk as it makes a big push in air cargo and into the U.S. market.
Last summer it took ownership of Senator International, a German forwarder that specializes in managing air shipments, for $644 million. Senator enhanced Maersk’s existing, but limited, air logistics capabilities.
The shipping giant also is expanding its existing cargo airline, called Star Air, to support internal customers rather than only operate as a contract carrier for express delivery companies. Star Air changed its legal name to Maersk Air Cargo and now the airline and airfreight management team function collectively under the Maersk Air Cargo umbrella.
The U.S. Department of Transportation in September issued an amended foreign carrier permit to Maersk’s private airline, allowing it to provide scheduled and charter service between the U.S. and international destinations under its new name.
Maersk Air Cargo operates 15 Boeing 767 freighters, most of them converted passenger aircraft, from hubs in Germany and England. It has an agreement to begin leasing three 767-300 freighters from Ohio-based Air Transport Services Group (ATSG) in the second half of the year. It also has two 777 freighters on order from Boeing.
FreightWaves was first to report that Maersk, without notice, this year bought three production 767 freighters from Boeing when the original customers canceled the deals and is outsourcing their operation to Miami-based Amerijet, which will soon fly them on trans-Pacific routes.
Chicago is strategically important for serving customers because of its central U.S. location and connection point between Asia and Europe.
O’Hare ranks as the second-busiest air cargo gateway in the U.S. — excluding the FedEx and UPS hubs in Tennessee and Kentucky. It benefits from proximity to the manufacturing belt, massive distribution infrastructure and the fact that more than two-thirds of the American population can be reached from Chicago within an overnight truck drive.
A Maersk spokesperson said demand for airfreight service in the Chicago region is high among industrial, chemical, automotive and technology customers.
Senator International last year leased a section of the new cargo terminal at Rockford International Airport (RFD) to handle more dedicated freighters rented from all-cargo operators to avoid congestion at O’Hare. Maersk now controls the facility, which is set up for direct transfer of freight from all-cargo aircraft.
The spokesperson said Maersk Air Cargo planes will arrive and depart at Rockford, which also handles charters provided by third-party carriers. The new gateway in Chicago can feed the freighter operations in Rockford or receive inbound shipments.
The Maersk representative said Maersk Air Cargo will commence U.S. service sometime this month with regular flights between Incheon airport in Korea and Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (GSP), where Maersk, thanks to the Senator deal, also operates a terminal to support the forwarding business’ charter activity. As previously reported, the airline ran trial flights in August between South Korea and GSP.
On Oct. 31, Maersk will begin flights between Korea and RFD.
The spokesperson said Maersk is exploring the possibility of increasing freighter operations at Rockford airport. At O’Hare airport, Maersk will rely on airline ground handlers to perform plane-to-truck transfers.
No information is available yet on where the aircraft leased from ATSG will operate.
Leveraging air-to-truck transfers
Maersk’s ability to pick up shipments inside O’Hare’s fence will enable more expedited delivery to customers.
Arrangements must be made for roller-bed trucks with special clearances and coordinating with ground handlers.
Maersk’s deconsolidation/consolidation facility has authority to receive imports and exports under a customs bond for deferred clearance away from the port of entry. Import cargo can be ready for delivery within 24 hours of arrival, the company said.
It also is certified by the Transportation Security Administration to screen outbound cargo before being transferred to airlines, which saves time and money compared to airport security.
Source: Freight Waves