ATSG’s recent acquisition of maintenance and cargo conversion provider PEMCO was notable for the support it will offer one of ATSG’s biggest customers, Amazon.
PEMCO’s heavy maintenance lines will help keep in service the 20 Boeing 767 freighters wet leased to Amazon.
And even if the company has no intention, for now, of adding 767 cargo conversions to its 737 capabilities, ATSG’s deal does extend Amazon’s reach into the aviation sector.
That should be no surprise, since the e-commerce market – in which Amazon is the world’s biggest player – has transformed air cargo, both for dedicated freighter and belly cargo operators.
The ease of internet shopping combined with next-day delivery has added significant air freight volumes, though the extra demand has brought its own complications.
Chief among these are the lithium batteries that power the huge proliferation of electronic devices aimed at the modern consumer.
Billions are shipped each year and IATA estimates that on certain routes lithium batteries represent a quarter of air freight. Those volumes are only set to increase, yet many companies involved in air freight are unacquainted with the relevant dangerous goods regulations.
That group has included Amazon: In late 2016 its UK subsidiary was fined £65,000 “causing dangerous goods to be delivered for carriage in an aircraft”, in a case concerning lithium ion batteries and flammable aerosols.
A change in aviation regulation last April required that lithium ion cells and batteries be transported on cargo aircraft only, unless contained in equipment, and from 1 January 2017 a new hazard label was introduced for lithium batteries on all modes of transport.
However, IATA acknowledges that the amount of undeclared dangerous goods shipments is unknown. It does admit that “from the incidents that have occurred, ‘undeclared’ shipments are clearly widespread”.
Perhaps Amazon’s growing familiarity with the air cargo business will curtail such transgressions.