Air Cargo Carriers was established in 1986 with a stated aim of providing aircraft in freight operations to service non-trunk population centers with the same bulk capacity and container capability as had been available only in larger markets.
Air Cargo began flying 3,500 lb. capacity Shorts Skyvan aircraft and grew to a fleet of 5 such aircraft. Starting in 1990, Shorts SD3-30 aircraft were added to the fleet. Even larger capacity Shorts 360’s were introduced into Air Cargo operations in 1995. The Skyvans have been phased out over time by moving them to an airline that is associated with Air Cargo Carriers. This airline, North Star Air Cargo, operates the aircraft but Air Cargo Carriers provides operating assistance in the form of dispatching, spares provisioning and other services. This has been an advantage to Air Cargo as North Star has been able to inaugurate routes with lower volumes than Air Cargo operates with the larger Shorts 330’s and 360’s. As volumes grow on the routes it is an easy upgrade to the larger 330’s and 360’s.
The US FAA allows aftermarket conversions of aircraft that are termed Supplemental Type Certificates (STC’s). STC’s are typically very involved to obtain as the FAA has stringent requirements that must be met before they will issue an STC. They usually require a great deal of time and significant investment to achieve. Over the years Air Cargo has developed or purchased STC’s that allow for the conversion of the aircraft from passenger to cargo configurations and for unique modifications to the Shorts SD3-30 and SD3-60 aircraft that improve their value and effectiveness as cargo aircraft. All of the Air Cargo Shorts SD3-30 and SD3-60 aircraft have been converted from a passenger configuration to cargo with an expanded cargo door and strengthened flat floor for quick and easy loading of cargo. In addition to owning the STC’s for the conversion to cargo for the Shorts Aircraft, Air Cargo performs the conversions in house to insure quality and minimize cost.
Air Cargo is now the largest commercial owner and operator of Shorts aircraft in the world. At one time there were other operators with large fleets of Shorts aircraft, but these were all passenger operations. Passenger commuter operators are now repositioning their fleets to include more regional jets and larger turboprops with the Shorts aircraft being displaced. They are not particularly attractive in the passenger market because they are not pressurized and relatively slow when compared to newer aircraft. This negative view of the Shorts aircraft in passenger operations is an advantage to Air Cargo as they are excellent cargo aircraft. They are built almost square and have a great deal of internal volume in which to load and unload the aircraft and have the cubic capacity to accommodate the bulky packages and containers that are becoming the norm in the package express industry.
Air Cargo is also the most integrated Shorts operator. Air Cargo is extremely unique in having its own flight training device in-house for pilot training. This is one of only two Shorts simulators in existence in the world. The availability of this simulator on site allows Air Cargo to train and keep their pilots current on the Shorts aircraft at much lower cost than other operators who have to send their pilots to La Guardia (New York City) for training on the only other simulator.
Air Cargo, with its central maintenance facility in Milwaukee, has the equipment and tooling to perform all maintenance functions on the Shorts aircraft. Air Cargo performs Hot Section Inspections (HSI’s) on its engines. Air Cargo also owns the aforementioned STC’s that allow the conversion of the aircraft from passenger to cargo configurations and performs all of these conversions in its own shop. An avionics shop and instrument shop are also located at the Milwaukee facility.
Air Cargo has one of the largest Shorts parts inventories in the world. When operators have ceased Shorts operations, Air Cargo has acquired their aircraft, parts and tooling. Damaged aircraft have also been acquired and stripped for useful parts. This has allowed Air Cargo to acquire a very extensive parts inventory at a very attractive cost.
Air Cargo has now positioned itself as a provider of a full range of services to other Shorts operators. This strategy allows Air Cargo to generate additional revenue and profits from its dominant position in the Shorts market and to maintain that position by keeping in contact with other Shorts operators and knowing when Shorts aircraft or parts are available for sale. This is particularly advantageous when an operator is leaving the business and a package of aircraft and parts can be acquired at very favorable prices. Air Cargo is selling some of its parts inventory to other operators but mostly parts that are excess to current and projected needs to meet internal growth. Air Cargo is more aggressive in trading parts that are due for servicing such as avionics and instruments. In these situations, Air Cargo will swap a serviceable (working) item for a repairable item to another operator. Air Cargo will repair the serviceable part and place on the shelf for other use.
Air Cargo provides pilot and maintenance personnel training to other Shorts operators. Providing these services to other Shorts operators is good business. It allows Air Cargo to stay very close to other available aircraft and parts in the Shorts market and helps to defray costs.