Cargo Airline Sends New Boeing 767 Freighters Directly to Storage

Soft airfreight market forces Northern Air Cargo affiliate to postpone use of aircraft.

Northern Air Cargo flies Boeing 767-300 freighters for Miami-based sister company StratAir. [Credit: Shutterstock/Kevin Porter]

The company behind Northern Air Cargo has taken delivery of two widebody freighter aircraft this year and immediately placed them in storage because there isn’t enough business to operate them profitably despite the improved outlook for the global airfreight market, FreightWaves has learned.

The decision represents the latest case of an all-cargo airline throttling back on fleet expansion plans made during the COVID-19 crisis when a shortfall in shipping capacity sent rates through the roof and made freighters valuable assets.

Northern Air Cargo, which serves communities in Alaska from its base in Anchorage, lost $12 million in the 12 months ended September 30, according to data on airline performance metrics compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

The idled cargo jets wear the brands of sister companies Aloha Air Cargo and Miami-based StratAir. Northern Air Cargo operates planes on behalf of both businesses.

The three companies are part of privately held Saltchuk Resources, a diversified freight transportation, logistics and energy distribution conglomerate based in Seattle. In 2021 and 2022, Saltchuk’s leasing subsidiary bought seven used Boeing 767-300 passenger jets and has been sending them to a Boeing partner site in Singapore to modify into main-deck freighters for the cargo airlines.

NAS Aircraft Leasing Co. (NALC) received two 767-300 converted freighters from Boeing in January and April and moved them to a storage facility until market conditions improve, Saltchuk Aviation spokeswoman April Spurlock said in an email.

Aircraft tracking site Flightradar24 shows the airplanes are being stored in the desert at Roswell Air Center in New Mexico.

“Throughout 2023 and 2024, the global air cargo market has experienced elevated costs and shifting market dynamics which has led to depressed pricing and cargo yields,” Spurlock said. “Due to this softening of the cargo market, Northern Air Cargo has taken steps to reduce its overhead costs and increase its revenues.”

The two new cargo jets will eventually replace aircraft the company will return in the near future when their lease ends. NALC currently leases three 767s from Air Transport Services Group (NASDAQ: ATSG), according to aviation analytics firm Cirium. A decision on when to place the new 767s into service will depend on several factors, including market conditions in the Caribbean and in Central and South America, where StratAir operates, she added.

StratAir is an airfreight logistics provider that charters airlift from NAC. It currently utilizes four 767 freighters operated by NAC.

Northern Air Cargo and Aloha Air Cargo operate a total of 16 aircraft: nine Boeing 737-300/400 Classics, a newer 737-800 and six 767-300 medium widebodies. All 767s are on NAC’s operating certificate and flown by NAC pilots. Saltchuk Aviation swaps aircraft among carriers as needed. One of the 767s flown by NAC for StratAir out of Miami to places such as San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Lima, Peru, for example, has an Aloha Air Cargo livery.

Aloha Air Cargo, which had a profit of $30 million in the fiscal year that ended September 30, operates interisland routes in Hawaii and to Seattle and Los Angeles. On a combined basis, Aloha and NAC posted $18 million in net income for fiscal 2023.

NALC has taken delivery of six converted freighters so far. It has not started work on the seventh Boeing conversion yet, and there is no firm date to do so, said Spurlock.

There are costs to keep an airline dormant, such as storage, regular maintenance to ensure electrical and hydraulic systems don’t deteriorate, and special maintenance service when a plane is reactivated. But industry professionals say it is cheaper to ground an aircraft than operate it if load factors are low.

NAC also laid off three administrative personnel as part of its effort to reduce costs, said Spurlock.

The airfreight market has been steadily recovering since a 16-month downturn hit bottom late last summer. During the first quarter, cargo volumes increased about 12 percent year over year, based on the average metric from various data providers. Industry analysts expect annual growth of about 3.5 percent over 2023 levels. But cargo growth varies by region, with major trade lanes out of Asia boosting the global average. North America, for example, had the weakest growth in February of any region, according to the International Air Transport Association. Also, Northern Air Cargo, Aloha Air Cargo, and StratAir play in specialized markets that are subject to their own unique dynamics.

Saltchuk Aviation and Northern Air Cargo aren’t alone in feeling the consequences of the freight recession in 2022-2023.

Miami-based Amerijet, which competes with StratAir, recently went through a restructuring with new ownership and returned six Boeing 757 converted freighters to lessors less than two years after acquiring them. FedEx Express is parking a portion of its fleet because of soft parcel demand. Canada’s Cargojet abandoned plans to acquire eight Boeing 777s and convert them for cargo. Air Canada backed out of a deal with Boeing for two 777 factory freighters. GlobalX, a startup charter operation in Miami, is concentrating fleet expansion on the passenger side of the business, rather than cargo. And Air Transport Services Group has sharply cut back on capital expenditures and postponed sending some aircraft to conversion sites.

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on FreightWaves.

Eric is the Air Cargo Market Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government coverage and news analysis, and was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at

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