Dedicated cargo aircraft normally operate out of sight of the traveling public. Cargo terminals are typically located away from passenger terminals to ease airport congestion and allow better access for trucks.
Singapore Airlines Cargo recently allowed us to tour their cargo facility at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), where we got to check out one of their Boeing 747-400 Freighters.
During my tour, I had a chance to speak with Singapore’s LAX cargo manager, and he explained that about 30 percent of SIA’s global system-wide cargo is transported by dedicated SIA Cargo aircraft. Just to destinations to the U.S., it is about 50 percent. Those are impressive percentages, but the entire cargo fleet is made up of Boeing 747-400Fs— seven of them.
There are nearly 30 dedicated cargo airlines that operate at LAX today. In 2015, there was more than 2.1 million tons of air freight, valued at nearly $101.4 billion, that passed through the airport.
LAX ranks 12th in the world and fifth in the U.S. in terms of air cargo tonnage processed. This is big business.
Singapore Airlines isn’t just about cargo at LAX. They also operate full-service passenger flights with widebody aircraft (currently the Boeing 777).
SIA also owns Scoot and SilkAir. Scoot operates budget passenger flights with widebody aircraft, while SilkAir operates full-service passenger flights with narrow-body aircraft. Neither of these airlines fly to LAX, or even the U.S. (although Scoot will start Honolulu service by the end of the year), but they are a part of SIA’s bigger cargo network.
That means air freight can easily be distributed among passenger flights on SIA-owned airlines. Many long-haul passenger jets are equipped with large cargo doors and can accommodate pallet freight in the spaces below the passenger compartment, and regional jets can handle smaller items. It all offers quite a bit of flexibility for customer and the airline.
“Together with dedicated freighter cargo space, we market and sell SIA Cargo as a seamless, unified brand and service,” Bradbury-Boyd explained. “Cargo is managed by the same group cargo team, using the same system platform. For example, for a shipment from San Francisco to Sydney, SIA Cargo may accept the consignment at SFO with a single airway bill, but then transfer it to LAX via truck for uplift on our freighter operating from LAX to SIN, before transferring the shipment to the belly-hold of a Scoot flight for the SIN to SYD sector.”
Back on the ramp, it’s always surprising to see how few people are needed to unload such a large aircraft – about a half-dozen ground crew used large scissor lifts and forklifts to empty the plane in short order.
SIA Cargo also delivers cargo on an as-needed basis to airports where it doesn’t have scheduled operations. This means they’re an occasional visitor to airports that normally do not see the Singapore livery. I recently got to catch one of their 747-400Fs departing my hometown airport of Seattle.