Danish logistics powerhouse DSV A/S will start operating its private-label cargo airline next month at relatively unknown Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, a strategic move aimed at courting Arizona’s sprouting semiconductor and electric vehicle industries with direct service that bypasses crowded Los Angeles International Airport.
The world’s third-largest freight forwarder by revenue in February signed a 39-month lease with the Phoenix-Mesa airport authority for a 22,000-square-foot hangar that will function as a makeshift terminal for processing cargo moving on large freighter aircraft.
DSV has engaged Cargolux and Atlas Air to provide dedicated transport utilizing Boeing 747 cargo jets. Cargolux will begin weekly scheduled service from Luxembourg on June 5. Tentative plans call for Atlas Air to deliver cargo from Hong Kong and Taipei, Taiwan, to Phoenix-Mesa starting sometime in July, but final routing decisions are still being worked out, Mads Ravn, executive vice president and head of global airfreight procurement, told FreightWaves.
Service to Phoenix-Mesa from Asia will actually piggyback on an existing operation provided by Atlas Air to DSV’s original U.S. hub at Huntsville International Airport in Alabama. Those flights continue to Miami and then to Sao Paulo. DSV intends to fly directly from Phoenix-Mesa to Latin America and offer export service back to Europe and Asia in the third quarter, said Ravn.
DSV is hosting a ribbon-cutting Tuesday morning, attended by local officials and other stakeholders, to inaugurate the latest location in its airfreight network.
Phoenix-Mesa “provides us with a serious competitive edge against our competitors … . Offering cargo aircraft capacity with the ability to exclusively manage the ground handling significantly strengthens growth opportunities — not only for DSV but for our customers as well,” said Niels Larsen, president DSV Air & Sea US, in an April news release.
Secondary airport for semiconductors
Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, which sits in the shadow of sprawling Phoenix Sky Harbor airport, is an unlikely location for facilitating international trade. A former U.S. Air Force base with three 10,000-foot runways, Phoenix-Mesa caters to regional airlines like Allegiant.
DSV represents the first scheduled cargo service based at Phoenix-Mesa. The selection is part of a growing trend that has seen major logistics companies and all-cargo carriers collaborate to route shipments through second- and third-tier airports where they can get priority treatment at a fraction of the cost of a major passenger airport.
Good infrastructure, focused service, longer operating hours and priority clearance from customs authorities make it easier to pick up inbound shipments at smaller airports, according to air cargo experts.
By leasing airside cargo terminals, logistics providers gain direct control over their freight compared to using multitenant facilities that disassemble and prepare loads for pickup at major gateways.
Cargo bottlenecks are common at major passenger gateways, where many terminals are outdated, lack modern technology, and have limited truck access, dock doors and appointment systems. Freight retrieval is often slow as shorthanded ground handling agents have to locate and consolidate shipments for dozens of freight forwarders before they can be released.
At cargo-focused airports, handling agents can service forwarder-controlled flights as soon as they arrive, reducing lead and recovery times.
DSV ground support personnel offload cargo from a Boeing 747-8 freighter operated by Cargolux as part of a test run at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport in late March. (Photo: Phoenix-Mesa Airport Authority)
DSV officials say Phoenix-Mesa is an excellent alternative to Los Angeles International Airport, where it can take up to two days to retrieve inbound shipments and would require a 400-mile drive by truck to Phoenix.
The company claimed the hangar as a temporary solution for quickly targeting new business opportunities with semiconductor and electric car manufacturers, mining operations, and alternative energy companies until a permanent facility is built.
In March, DSV acquired two Phoenix-area trucking and logistics companies to strengthen its local capabilities and support the airfreight service.
Arizona is becoming a semiconductor and electric vehicle hotbed, especially with federal incentive programs, including through last year’s CHIPS Act, to encourage more domestic production in industries critical for national security.
Taiwan’s TSMC, the largest chipmaker in the world, is building a massive fabrication plant in Phoenix and expects to begin production next year. It announced in December plans for a second, multibillion-dollar semiconductor facility north of Phoenix. Intel is also investing $20 billion to expand its campus in nearby Chandler, Arizona.
In March, LG Energy Solutions announced plans to build a $5.5 billion plant to make batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage systems. Is the latest in a string of battery companies moving to Arizona. Since December, Ecobat has announced plans to build a lithium-ion battery recycling facility in Casa Grande, American Battery Factory has said it will invest $1.2 billion to build a lithium-ion battery manufacturing facility in Tucson, and Sion Power has announced it is expanding its Tucson battery manufacturing operation.
DSV has options to renew the hangar lease, which starts at $366,000 per year and annually escalates 3% to 4%, for up to six years. Ravn said DSV has hired Worldwide Flight Services to provide ground handling services, including truck transfers, for the freighter operations. The logistics provider has installed its own ground equipment and conducted two test shipments in March to familiarize employees and contractors with the Phoenix-Mesa airfield.
DSV has not committed to any expansion, but airport officials say they anticipate the logistics provider will eventually occupy a much larger facility that would be built by SkyBridge Arizona, a private consortium that owns the master development rights for 360 acres of airport property.
Peter Wentis, a senior vice president at real estate services firm CBRE, said SkyBridge has plans for buildings conducive to airfreight and DSV is aware of them.
DSV’s new Arizona capabilities will allow the company to offer more routes to Latin America and Mexico.
A pending system at Phoenix-Mesa that would allow U.S. and Mexican customs authorities to jointly inspect cargo bound for Mexico could help DSV’s southern route expansion. Under the program, the airport essentially becomes Mexican sovereign territory for export purposes. The government can then treat inbound flights as domestic flights and eliminate a redundant inspection upon arrival. Airport officials envision shippers of high-value and e-commerce goods taking advantage of air cargo to avoid the risk and delays associated with cross-border trucking.
The unified cargo processing system is operational at a dozen U.S. commercial ports along the Southern border.
The Phoenix-Mesa airport authority said it has U.S. Customs approval to implement the program.
Other cargo-focused airports capturing business that previously went to mega-hubs include Birmingham, Alabama; Chicago Rockford; Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport; Greenville-Spartanburg in South Carolina; Rickenbacker International Airport in Columbus; Pittsburgh; and San Bernardino, California.
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