On Saturday (03DEC22), a Boeing 777-200 freighter (Registration: N707GT, Serial Number: 67992), bearing the name MSC Air Cargo, took off from Cincinnati (CVG) to land in Liège (LGG) shortly before 17:00 CET. The event took place almost unnoticed, since the spectacular water shower with which new airlines are usually welcomed upon their first arrival, appears to have been skipped by the airport's management. The most probwable reason for this was the freezing ambient temperature, which would have led to the freighter having to be de-iced prior to returning to the USA shortly afterwards. Thus, a redundant, costly, and time-consuming exercise was avoided.
According to sources close to the case, MSC Air Cargo has decided that LGG will be the carrier's European gateway, and the only airport served in the EU block of 27 countries. Although there has been no official statement from the shipping line or its cargo subsidiary, MAC's maiden flight hardly allows for any other interpretation. With immediate effect, the Atlas Air operated freighter will touch down in LGG four times a week, offering shippers and forwarders around 100 tons of cargo uplift per flight, industry observers told CargoForwarder Global.
Ground handling services at LGG will be provided by Challenge Handling.
Investor group purchases Atlas Air
The upcoming change of ownership does not affect the cooperation between MSC and Atlas Air Worldwide. Last Wednesday evening (29NOV22), it was announced that a group of investors led by Apollo Global Management, Inc. takes over Atlas Air. The transaction was unanimously approved by the Atlas Board of Directors. Approximately 99.3% of the votes cast were in favor of the deal. This represented approximately 80.9% of the outstanding shares of the enterprise. According to the Board of Directors, the transaction is expected to get the green light in the first quarter of 2023, subject to customary closing conditions and receipt of regulatory approvals. Upon closing, Atlas Air Worldwide will become a privately held company, and shares of Atlas Air Worldwide common stock will no longer be listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange.
Tightly knit network
Back to MSC and Atlas Air: According to industry sources, these are the routes that MSC Air Cargo will offer on a weekly basis: Regular transatlantic flights connecting both Mexico City (MEX) and Indianapolis (IND) with LGG. In addition, a round-the-world freighter service is operated with the routing MEX-IND-LGG-Hong Kong (HKG)-Anchorage (ANC)-MEX.
As can be seen, next to Indianapolis and Mexico City, Liège and Hong Kong have a hub function in MSC Air Cargo’s newly established worldwide network.
So far, the fleet consists of a single B777-200F, but three additional Triple Seven freighters are to follow, all operated on ACMI basis.
This is already the fourth cargo airline that Liège has been able to attract in recent months. For example, since September, JetOneX is connecting LGG several times per week to U.S. and Asian destinations, deploying Boeing 747-400 freighter aircraft operated by Air Atlanta Icelandic.
The Chinese capacity provider, SF Airlines, has also returned, after a period of flight adjustment. It connects the Walloon Airport twice weekly with Wuhan in China, since September.
Further, in addition to its B757F, Icelandair will begin operating a B767F next week (from 05DEC22), complementing its freighter fleet. The flights depart from LGG to both Chicago (ORD) and New York (JFK), serving these U.S. airports each three times per week.
All flights are routed via Iceland's Keflavik Airport.
Cargo comes first at LGG
In the Spring of 2023, a second B767F is scheduled to arrive, Icelandair cargo manager, Manfred Lauf, confirmed to CargoForwarder Global. The routing is still undecided, but flights to Los Angeles are currently under consideration, also operated via Keflavik.
Asked about the recent positive development, Torsten Wefers, VP Sales and Marketing of Liège Airport, stated: “Welcoming additional business by both well-established and newly created air cargo players, is a great honor. Being chosen and developed as the key European hub, shows that our cargo-only strategy is paying off. This sets us apart from most European hubs, where passenger traffic development is treated as first priority.”
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