U.S. based passenger-carrier, Eastern Airlines, is looking to move into the freighter market with its recent appointment of Mike Duggan as director of international cargo business development.
Initially responsible for Eastern’s efforts to develop and optimise its passenger aircraft belly cargo sales, Duggan will also be responsible to lead and support the carrier’s move into freighter operations.
According to The Load Star, the 767 operator is looking at conversion options and, with a passenger 777 set to start operating in its fleet by the year-end, it is also eyeing 777 freighter options. It is currently awaiting FAA approval to put cargo in the cabins of its eight-strong passenger fleet.
Eastern Airlines mostly operates into Central and South America with a mixture of scheduled and charter flights, and is looking at under-served, smaller routes abandoned by the majors as Covid-19 struck, explained Mike Duggan. “We are moving into freighters,” he confirmed, adding that the carrier was also looking at European and Asian routes.
One of its current key routes is Guayaquil, Ecuador, an export market for fresh fish and flowers, much of it trucked from Quito.
“Right now we have modest volumes, but there is not much capacity in the skies at the moment, so cargo in cabins can work if the price is right,” added Mr Duggan. “Ours is a small fleet, but that makes us flexible.”
One of the 767s in its fleet is a candidate for conversion, and there are other possibilities in the market at the moment, he said. Once Eastern begins operating its 777, which it acquired in June, it will then look at conversion possibilities for the type.
“So, being opportunistic in the marketplace to take advantage of value when it’s presented is what we do. We saw a good opportunity to enter the 777 aircraft type, and complete this transaction. We think, long-term, the 777 is going to be a good platform for us.”.
Mr Duggan added: “The first 777-300ER conversion is happening now, and it’s an interesting freighter. Its payload is only 80 tonnes, but it has several additional positions, and that brings a huge amount of space. It could be really interesting for volumetric cargo like e-commerce.”
Eastern is already in talks with express operators to become a supplier.
“We want to do contract flying for companies like DHL and Amazon, like a small Atlas or ATSG,” Mr Duggan said.
And the carrier has some of the right credentials. Vice president commercial Ken Johnson spent 14 years at Atlas Air, latterly in charge of government and defence development and, prior to that, headed sales and marketing for Atlas’s charter business.