Freighter operator Cargolux, the eighth-largest all-cargo operator by traffic, is diversifying with a new firefighting business line.

The Luxembourg-based airline announced Friday that the new venture, called Aquarius Aerial Firefighting, will operate a fleet of 12 Air Tractor AT-802F Fire Boss aircraft. The single-engine air tankers, a mix of single and double-seaters, will be acquired over a three-year period. The first three aircraft have already been delivered and are expected to be deployed in May. 

Cargolux is investing $72 million in the new aircraft, said spokeswoman Moa Sigurdardottir. The firefighting division will have about 40 to 45 employees.

Cargolux, which operates 30 Boeing 747 freighters, also offers third-party maintenance services for 747s at its home base. Firefighting represents a good opportunity because there is a shortage in Europe, and other regions, of aerial capacity to drop water and retardants on forest fires.

Wildfires have exploded in number and intensity across North America and Europe during the past five years, fueled by extreme weather patterns and global warming.

“Over the past years, we have witnessed wildfires becoming a growing global issue that requires a rapid response. Not only do such fires emit significant amounts of CO2 but they pose a significant danger to lives and livelihoods. As a responsible corporate citizen I see it as our responsibility to help tackle this problem. I look forward to Aquarius Aerial Firefighting becoming an integral part of the solution,” said Cargolux CEO Richard Forson in a news release.

The Fire Boss tanker is designed to attack wildfires while they are still small and contain their spread. Its agility allows it to operate in terrain – mountain areas, narrow flight corridors and urban-rural interface zones – where larger aircraft can’t maneuver, or effectively impact a fire, according to the Olney, Texas-based manufacturer. The tanker is able to come in low and slow to pinpoint the drop of water or flame retardant.

The Fire Boss can be configured with an amphibious water scooper, allowing the plane to resupply from nearby water sources and make more drops. Powered by a Pratt & Whitney PT6A-67AG turbine engine, the plane can hit top speeds of 200 mph.

Sustainable aviation fuel

Cargolux’s shareholders are Luxembourg flag carrier Luxair, Henan Civil Aviation Development and Investment Co. in China, and two state-controlled Luxembourg banks. The government of Luxembourg owns 8.3% of the airline.

In 2022, the company generated a record profit of $1.6 billion.

Meanwhile, Cargolux has committed to a long-term purchase agreement with Norsk e-Fuel for sustainable aviation fuel, the companies announced Wednesday.

Norsk e-Fuel is building a production facility in Mosjøen, Norway, and will start to provide fossil-free fuels to the aviation industry after 2026. Norsk e-Fuel is made by capturing carbon dioxide and using electricity from renewable sources.

Cargolux will also provide capital support for construction of two more facilities by 2030.

 Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper articles by Eric Kulisch.

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Cargolux reports record $1.6B profit in 2022

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