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I was reading recently that Northwest Airlines was the last American passenger carrier to operate dedicated Cargo aircraft. Why do none of the large US airlines operate dedicated cargo flights anymore? This seems to be common among international Airlines (Lufthansa, China Airlines, Qatar Airways, EVA, etc).

Presumably UPS and Fedex's extensive networks have something to do with it? I'm surprised that none of them find it economical, however.

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  • $\begingroup$ And Amazon now too. $\endgroup$ – CrossRoads Mar 1 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ Amazon doesn't have passengers, which makes them more like UPS or FedEx. Except they contract out (wet lease?) their planes for the most part, to Atlas Air, for example. $\endgroup$ – zymhan Mar 1 at 16:07
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Alaska Airlines Cargo Freighter

Alaska Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines still have dedicated freighters.

American, Delta, Southwest and United all have thriving cargo shipping operations, but as far as I can tell, no longer have freighters.

Alaska used to run 737 Combi to ship cargo and passengers in the main cabin on their “Milk Run” up the Alaskan panhandle. They now have dedicated freighters to handle the cargo.

Good luck shipping your parcel.

Hawaiian Air Cargo

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    $\begingroup$ The question is about cargo-only aircraft, not belly cargo operations. Alaska Airlines is a special case, they only service Alaskan routes with their 737F. Besides, the general public can't ship belly cargo post 9/11, you must be TSA-approved. $\endgroup$ – user71659 Feb 28 at 23:26
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    $\begingroup$ @user71659 And the answer explicitly says that Alaskan has cargo-only aircraft. You can claim that they're a special case but the question claims that no US passenger airline operates cargo-only flights and this answer rebuts that claim. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Feb 28 at 23:49
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    $\begingroup$ @user71659 So what? Alaska is still part of the USA. Alaskan is still an American carrier. None of what you're saying invalidates the answer in any way. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Feb 28 at 23:55
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    $\begingroup$ @user71659 "the real answer" has been covered by others. This supplemental answer provides good information which is completely on-topic and on-point. $\endgroup$ – user33375 Mar 1 at 2:58
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    $\begingroup$ @user71659 "Your premise is wrong, X is not true" is a perfectly accurate answer to "why X?" So is "X is not true technically; the reason why it is mostly true is Y". So this answer would be improved by talking about why it is mostly true, but it remains an on-topic answer. $\endgroup$ – Yakk Mar 1 at 18:58
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A lot of airlines (USA flagged or not) still ship cargo in the hold along with passengers baggage, for some airlines its a high dollar business. Carriers like UPS, FedEx, etc, have surely put a dent in the plane-full-o-cargo market but for the airlines it actually helps to mitigate risk. If you carry both cargo and passengers you can be assured of a more stable revenue stream across the board. An airline can mitigate a lull in travel or cargo movement by also generating income from the other stream.

There is also a lot of differing logistics in moving cargo that a passenger airline may not want to deal with. UPS and FedEx also maintain truck fleets to deal with the package once it gets to an airport. This end to end business model is attractive to consumers. An airline, who may have the space on the plane but not the trucks, can't offer such service and for a given customer this may make or break the deal.

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    $\begingroup$ That makes sense, I noticed that Delta still lets you arrange cargo shipments on their scheduled passenger flights. It makes sense to have both in the same plane so you can make money from two different sources. $\endgroup$ – zymhan Feb 28 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ You'd also need warehouses/processing facilities for large-scale cargo operations, in order to get things on the right plane (and packed efficiently), then transferred to trucks, and have every package tracked through the process. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 28 at 20:00
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    $\begingroup$ In the US? Because "trucks", +1, in a country with a federally maintained interstate highway system. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Mar 1 at 0:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Mazura Trucks are mostly last-mile haulage. The privately-maintained railroad system is the more direct competitor to air freight. $\endgroup$ – chrylis -on strike- Mar 1 at 14:26
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    $\begingroup$ Rail + Ship containerized transportation is a competitor to international air freight (you have 4 options from, for example, Shanghai to Rio de Janeiro (ignoring local haulage: 1: Ship through Panama (cheap / slow), 2: Rail to Europe, Ship across Atlantic (faster, but more expensive than #1, 3: Rail to Europe, Airfreight across Atlantic (still faster, more expensive than #2, includes need to change from ISO Containers to Air Containers), and 4: Air freight from China to Brazil (fastest, most expensive). $\endgroup$ – Randall Mar 2 at 17:02
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The cargo operation (dedicated fleet) requires its own logistical and operational apparatus. Unless an airline's cargo subsidiary is large enough to get the required economy of scale, along with decent market conditions, it's not worth the trouble and expense.

According to this article, Lufthansa's cargo operation lost money in 2016 and they were complaining about subsidies to Gulf operators that allow them to undercut airlines like Lufthansa who have marginally profitable cargo divisions.

And there's the rub. A good chunk of cargo operations outside the North America are subsidized (certainly the ones operated by government owned or controlled airlines). In the absence of subsidies, and with a harder focus on making every dollar count, in North America it was found to be more efficient to specialize.

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    $\begingroup$ That makes a lot of sense, a cargo operation would require a lot of additional infrastructure that's not helpful for the passenger side of the house. $\endgroup$ – zymhan Feb 28 at 19:47
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    $\begingroup$ Razor...thin...margins. $\endgroup$ – J... Feb 28 at 21:33

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