Kangaroos to South America. Bank cards to Canada. Oil well drill bits to Asia.
And on a recent flight from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport to Shanghai, the belly of an American Airlines Boeing 777-200 was stuffed with electronics, computer components and automotive parts.
Cargo traffic is on pace to generate more than $800 million in revenue for American Airlines this year. And as the carrier adds flights to Hong Kong, Shanghai and other international destinations, it is transporting more than just passengers between destinations.
“It’s fairly profitable,” said Joe Goode, American’s managing director of cargo sales for the western division. “The last passenger generates the most profit, right? Well, we go on after that last passenger.”
Cargo revenue was up 4.6 percent in the first quarter and cargo ton miles, a measure of overall volume, was up almost 12 percent compared with the first quarter of 2013. In May, American’s cargo operations at DFW loaded over 22 million pounds of cargo on to planes at the airport.
“What’s great about these new airplanes is they have really good cargo capacity,” said American’s vice president of cargo sales, Joe Reedy, referring to the Boeing 777s and 787s that American is adding to its fleet this year.
The Boeing 777-300, which American is using on its routes to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Sao Paulo and London, has 32 cargo positions and carries an average of 59,000 pounds. By comparison, Boeing 767s have less than a dozen cargo positions and carry an average of 29,000 pounds.
Crews in Los Angeles loaded more than 100,000 pounds of cargo on a London-bound flight this year; the record out of DFW is in the mid-60,000 range.
The Fort Worth-based carrier has grown its cargo operations at DFW, adding an 1,800-square-foot referigerated cooler to handle more seafood and fruit and vegetables. A couple of weeks ago, fresh lobsters from Boston were chilling in the cooler awaiting their flight.
American has doubled its perishable traffic at DFW and in the first quarter handled more than 4.4 million pounds of fruits and vegetables, more than any other cargo that came through the facility.
Salmon from Chile was the second largest commodity handled at DFW, followed by mangos from Lima at No. 3. Goode said the company is considering adding a second cooler that’s twice as big so it can handle more perishable goods.
American primarily contracts with freight-forwarding companies, like DHL, which deal with individuals and companies looking to ship goods by air. Specialized freight forwarders that handle live animals or priceless artwork also place cargo on American flights.
A few years ago, artifacts in the King Tut museum exhibit flew from London to Dallas in the bellies of several aircraft.
Robert Villamizar, a DHL vice president, said customers have been wanting nonstop flights to China, particularly those who need electronic components, like circuit boards and network equipment, shipped quickly overseas. Often the raw materials are collected in Brazil and then need to be sent to Asia for final assembly.
“The great connectivity that Dallas has into Latin America is an excellent opportunity for goods to come through Dallas and then connecting into Shanghai,” Villamizar said. “That will save our customer in China at least 24 to 48 hours having that direct flight.”
DFW Airport Chief Executive Sean Donohue said the airport’s international cargo traffic is outperforming any of the other major U.S. gateway airports by a good margin.
“As the flow of goods and services expands again, I think we’re in a great place,” Donohue said.
During the first two weeks of its new flights to Hong Kong and Shanghai, American only sold a fraction of the cargo capacity, about 8,000 pounds. On Friday, June 20, the Shanghai flight left DFW with 5,500 pounds of cargo aboard.
“We were very conservative at the beginning but now we have a bigger bucket to sell into. So I would expect these loads to improve,” Goode said.
How much cargo an aircraft can carry depends on the passenger loads, weather and other factors. Sometimes, cargo loaders run out of space before they hit their weight limit.
“On the farther flights, we run out of weight before we run out of space,” Goode said.
Cargo capacity by aircraft
|Aircraft||Cargo Positions||Avg cargo weight|
*American expects delivery of its first Boeing 787s by the end of the year.