Mediterranean Shipping Co., the largest ocean container line in the world, has received a second aircraft from Boeing for its startup cargo airline.

The new 777-200 freighter will be operated by Atlas Air under a long-term transportation service agreement that calls for providing four 777 aircraft, crews, maintenance and insurance. The new cargo jet will complement MSC Air Cargo’s existing around-the-world weekly service, which began in December, that stops in Mexico City; Indianapolis; Liege, Belgium; Seoul, South Korea; and Xiamen, China, according to an Atlas Air news release on Thursday.

Atlas Air is the direct purchaser of the production aircraft committed to Mediterranean Shipping Co. It said it expects to receive the remaining two 777 aircraft in the fourth quarter.

Earlier this year, MSC Air Cargo selected France-based ECS Group to provide auxiliary marketing of the freighter space in Europe and North America. 

The delivery of the new Atlas freighter in MSC’s livery follows Wednesday’s announcement from Maersk, another major ocean carrier, that it has expanded the footprint of its cargo airline in North America with the opening of an airfreight gateway near Hartsfield-Jackson airport in Atlanta.

MSC is the third major ocean line to reinvest record profits in cargo airlines during the past two years. CMA CGM also launched a cargo airline and has its own aircraft operating certificate. Maersk previously operated freighters as a contractor for express delivery companies in Europe but switched its strategy to include providing air transport for its own customers. Maersk is a hybrid operator that uses its own pilots and outsources flying to a third party for its Asia-North America service.

The airlines are part of the carriers’ new strategy to be one-stop logistics supermarkets with the ability to provide a range of integrated transportation and logistics services. Having dedicated aircraft allows them to provide supply chain connections when other modes are too slow or not available to meet customer requirements.

The growth of the container lines’ air fleet is taking place amid a significant downturn in the air cargo market, with demand down 7% to 10% since March 2022. Demand is currently about 1% to 5% lower than this time last year, while shipping prices have tumbled nearly 50%, according to various estimates. On Thursday, American Airlines said second-quarter cargo revenue fell nearly 40% year over year. 

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

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