United adds Atlanta cargo flights

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Credit: Justin Sullivan

Credit: Justin Sullivan

The cargo-only flights on United Boeing 787-10s started Jan. 10. It’s part of the more than 9,500 cargo-only flights the Chicago-based airline has operated since mid-March 2020. With the number of international passenger flights cut, so is the availability of belly cargo space, driving demand for more dedicated cargo flights.

United, Delta Air Lines and other carriers started using idled passenger planes for cargo-only flights after the onset of the COVID-19. The pandemic led to a sharp decline in travel demand. German carrier Lufthansa also operates freighter flights between Atlanta and Frankfurt, and cargo demand drove Delta to resume Atlanta-Frankfurt flights last year.

Separately, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is moving forward with plans for a new cargo facility.

The airport is looking for a company to develop the long-envisioned cargo building. This month, Hartsfield-Jackson issued a request for proposals. It would be the Atlanta airport’s first such air cargo public-private partnership, a concept in the works since before the pandemic started.

A company that develops the building could sublease space to other tenants that could handle cargo for airlines. The company would have to prepare airport land for construction of the facility, which would have access to the airfield.

Airport officials envision “the marriage of underlying digital and technology innovation” to make Hartsfield-Jackson more attractive for air freight. They decided to move forward on the project after gauging market interest over the last year. The airport is accepting formal proposals from companies until March 4.

The air cargo expansion at Hartsfield-Jackson will drive economic growth in the region and create more jobs, officials from the airport and City of Atlanta have said.

However, as the pandemic struck a blow on the global economy, overall cargo volume for the January-November period at Hartsfield-Jackson still declined 8.5% year-over-year, according to the most recent airport data available. The declines were driven by sharp drops in international freight and mail, while domestic cargo volume was up.

It was still a much milder decline than the severe drop in passenger volume at Hartsfield-Jackson, down 61.2% year-over-year for the January-November period.

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