See inside the Boeing 767 freighter that shuttles thousands of pounds of packages per day for companies like DHL and Amazon
ABX is a cargo airline operating a fleet of 24 Boeing 767-200 and 767-300 freighters.
The company leases out aircraft to transport goods for shipping companies like DHL and Amazon.
Insider toured an ABX Boeing 767-300 at New York's JFK International Airport to learn more about the operation.
It's no secret the world has been suffering from a painful supply chain issue brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As people stayed home during lockdown, e-commerce started to boom. But, a labor shortage, coupled now with shifts in demand and the ongoing war in Ukraine, caused the global movement of goods to slow down.
As a result, the need to move things quickly and efficiently became a priority, and air travel was a popular fix considering the ongoing maritime shipping delays.
We chartered a boat with a logistics expert to look at port congestion up close and saw how American greed is leading to shortages and empty shelves
Companies like Alaska Airlines and Lufthansa started converting passenger jets to freighters to help tackle the crisis.
The Federal Aviation Administration has since committed $31 million to improve cargo infrastructure at nine airports across the country.
This includes building new taxiways and increasing space at airports to "handle cargo more efficiently and help strengthen America's supply chains," Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a press release.
While some companies are reducing capacity to save money during a looming recession, the International Air Transport Association still expects air cargo to be a $149 billion industry in 2023 — 50% higher than pre-pandemic.
"To put the yield decline in context, cargo yields grew by 52.5% in 2020, 24.2% in 2021, and 7.2% in 2022," the agency said. "Even the sizable and expected decline leaves cargo yields well above pre-COVID levels."
Insider went behind the scenes with cargo carrier ABX at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport to learn more about the loading and unloading process— take a look.
ABX is an airline under the Air Transport Services Group, which is one of the world's largest aircraft lessors and is the biggest operator of converted Boeing 767 cargo jets.
In total, ABX operates a fleet of 13 Boeing 767-200 and 11 Boeing 767-300 aircraft.
Insider toured the -300 variant, which is the world's most efficient medium widebody converted freighter, per Boeing, and can carry up to 113,900 pounds of cargo.
Unlike some companies like UPS and FedEx, ABX doesn't have its own freight, nor does it label any packages. Rather, it provides aircraft, pilots, and mechanics to move goods for others.
For example, the carrier has contracts with both DHL and Amazon to fly cargo routes using its 767s, but all of the packages on board are handled by the shipping companies — not ABX.
Source: ABX, Air Cargo News
According to Boeing, goods shipped via air are "typically high in value, time-sensitive, and perishable," and they "require speedy, reliable transit."
To make this happen, ABX typically has just a two-hour turnaround time at New York-JFK to get goods in and out as quickly as possible.
The process starts with the taxi into the cargo handling area at the airport. According to Fasiel "Pete" Flash, ABX's line maintenance regional manager, the plane will either taxi on its own power or be towed in.
While the plane was being towed, I noticed the old passenger windows and emergency doors, which were painted over during the freighter conversion, were still faintly visible.
Once parked, the mechanics and pilots will talk about any action or work the aircraft needs. During our tour, the 767 was considered "green" upon landing, meaning it was good to go.
Simultaneously, the workers started unloading the freight, which had just been flown in from Cincinnati. According to Flash, they are third-party staff not employed by ABX but work for the affiliate company.
"Everything that's picked up anywhere around the world, like Asia or Europe, that hits Cincinnati is sorted there," a spokesperson told Insider. "Then, JFK-destined freight is put onto our planes and flown here."
There are three doors to unload and load freight: one in the front right of the jet...
...one in the back right...
…and one large door on the left.
The entry is high above the ground, so agents have to use giant platforms to rise and lower the freight.
The cargo hold can also be accessed via a door connected to the cockpit, and I saw agents using this entrance to go in and out during the loading process.
To maneuver the containers, the floor on both the plane and the lift has wheels that can turn 360 degrees, allowing the cargo to move or turn in any direction.
Once the cargo is out, it will be put on a truck that goes to a delivery center. From there, the boxes are sorted and delivered to each doorstep.
For the packages originating in the NYC area that need to be delivered to homes and businesses in another part of the US, ABX will reload the jet at JFK and fly back out.
Loading is a similar process to unloading — containers will be raised on a platform, moved into the jet via one of the three doors, and organized inside.
Though, there are specific weight and balance processes that the loadmaster and his or her team must follow.
The loadmaster explained there is a scale used to get each container's exact weight.
Each number is entered into a computer that spits out where each container must be placed in the cargo hold to maintain proper weight and balance.
According to the loadmaster, some sections, which are coded with numbers and letters, can carry more or less weight — with heavier items going towards the front of the jet.
The versatile wheels on the floor make it easy to push and pull the containers, which can weight thousands of pounds.
I also noticed the latches that secure the containers in place. Flash told Insider that if anything moves, the plane's weight and balance could change, posing a safety risk.
The cargo hold was also surprisingly warm, which was a nice change to the cold, rainy weather outside. The plane is temperature controlled for scenarios like animal transport, Flash explained.
On the day of my tour, the agents filled the aircraft with a full load of freight, which takes about 40 minutes if everything flows well and the team is fully staffed.
After the loadmaster cross-checks the numbers with the pilots, the plane is locked up, the paperwork is signed off, and the jet is ready to go. Despite the one-hour delay from Cincinnati, the jet only departed back 35 minutes late.
ABX is just one of the dozens of cargo carriers operating in the US. Competitor Atlas Air, which recently received the last-ever Boeing 747, flies freight for companies like Amazon.
Meanwhile, Hawaiian Airlines recently landed a lucrative contract with Amazon to fly freight using converted Airbus A330 cargo jets.
See the giant Airbus A330 freighter aircraft that will power a new lucrative cargo operation for Amazon
All of these operations, along with the FAA's investment, will continue to support post-COVID supply chain issues.
While it's true the market is slowing, it is still outpacing 2019 and Boeing estimates the global freighter fleet will need over 1,300 planes by 2041 to keep up.
New cargo jets, like the Airbus A350F and the Boeing 777X freighters, are scheduled to hit the market by 2025 and 2027, respectively.
Boeing's new 777-8 freighter will be the largest and longest-range twin-engine cargo plane in the industry. See how it stacks up to rival Airbus' A350F.
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