Air Wisconsin Dips Toe In Air Cargo

Air Wisconsin will soon start flying small regional jet that’s been converted to handle freight. Potential users are companies that need expedited shipments. Air Wisconsin

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on

Air Wisconsin, which flies under an agreement as United Express as a regional partner of United Airlines, is exploring opportunities as an all-cargo carrier with a single regional jet converted to cargo that it expects to deploy in early December, President and CEO Robert Binns said.

This Appleton, Wisconsin-based company, which owns and operates a fleet of 64 CRJ-200 jets for United in the Midwest and eastern U.S., has leased a CRJ-200 (Canadair Regional Jet) converted to a cargo configuration in an effort to diversify its revenue stream amid growing cargo-lift demand.

“Given the growth in cargo and our experience as one of the largest operators of the CRJ-200 we decided to put it on our certificate and test the waters,” Binns said.

Air Wisconsin is following the lead of regional competitor Mesa Airlines, which last year launched a cargo division that operates two Boeing 737-400 converted jets for express carrier DHL.

“You traditionally have these regional airlines that fly under purchase agreements with mainline carriers, which are basically long-term wet-lease contracts. And on the cargo side you have very different carriers doing the same sort of thing for their customers. It’s interesting that those worlds have never really overlapped,” Binns said. “It’s a very similar business model, just for different customers.”

About The Aircraft

Air Wisconsin is leasing the CRJ-200 from Miami-based Regional One, which bought the airplane from Pinnacle Partners. Aeronautical Engineering Inc. (AEI) managed the conversion of a CRJ-200 passenger jet into a freighter for Pinnacle. The aircraft operated in the Middle East before being sold to Regional One.

The 50-seat CRJ-200 has a 14,600-pound payload in a dedicated cargo configuration. Revamping a passenger jet for cargo operations includes the installation of a large cargo door, a 9G rigid crash and smoke barrier, and modification of the main deck to support heavy loads.

The aircraft competes with the ATR 72 turboprop cargo version, but Robert Convey, senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in an email message that the CRJ-200 can fly at twice the speed, which is beneficial for integrators that want late cutoff times for receiving last-minute packages.

Aviation experts say there is a large potential pool of CRJs for cargo conversion because U.S. airlines are phasing out no-frills, 50-seaters for larger, more modern aircraft. United Airlines, for example, is moving to Embraer EMB-175s as its smallest aircraft type.

What The Future May Hold

Air Wisconsin mostly carries mail in the lower hold of passenger aircraft. Building a cargo sales and logistics capability will depend on whether business comes from integrators such as FedEx and UPS that have established routes and feed aircraft with their own packages or ad hoc charter customers, Binns said.

The airline’s chief has experience with cargo operations from his eight-year stint leading Global Aviation Holdings. One of its units was World Airways, which operated a fleet of 747-400 and MD-11 tri-jet cargo aircraft before going out of business in 2014. (Binns left the company before the new owners decided to take a quick profit and liquidate.)

Air Wisconsin has not actively marketed the aircraft since it is still undergoing a heavy maintenance check and getting painted in the company’s livery, but Binns said that potential customers could include automakers that need expedited shipping of components to manufacturing plants and integrated express delivery companies looking to connect their network to smaller cities.

Binns said Air Wisconsin has an advantage over CRJ cargo operators because it has a large stockpile of low-mileage engines, as well as maintenance and crew bases around the country. Some freighter companies have had difficulty getting engines for the aircraft after regional SkyWest bought up most of the available CF34 engines and secured all the shop capacity, essentially cornering the market. But Convey said the supply of the CF34 engines appears to be improving.

Flying Magazine is a one-stop resource for everything aviation, including news, training, aircraft, gear, careers, photos, videos, and more.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Get the latest FLYING stories delivered directly to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter