MIAMI – With the uptick in the air cargo market, Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) received on Tuesday its second unique cargo flight amid the pandemic. Finnair (AY) has started a cargo charter route carrying automotive parts for one of its Asian customers.

The route will leave Asia in the morning and will have a quick crew change and refueling in Helsinki (HEL) in the afternoon before taking off again and arriving to PIT in the early evening the same day. Due to the PIT, the operation will be short-term and will continue through May. AY officials said they are hopeful to see the service expand beyond the initial schedule.

Finnair will be utilizing the Airbus A350-900 aircraft on this route. The type was greeted o Tuesday with a water arch salute from the airport fire department for the inaugural flight.

The Pittsburgh airport continues to see an increase in demand for air freight amid the coronavirus pandemic. With Tusday’s flight, this is the first time the HEL and PIT have been connected.

PIT Growing as a US Cargo Hub

In March, the airport reported a 29% increase in cargo compared to 2020. Airfreight also rose by 27% with mail increasing by 37% as well.

In addition, Qatar Airways (QR) resumed cargo operations at PIT and continues weekly flights on a converted Boeing 777-300ER. On its part, Cathay Pacific (CX) used a similar aircraft for cargo flights between Pittsburgh and Hong Kong that ran twice weekly from September to November of last year on a “COVID Combi,” which is a passenger aircraft with all the seats removed.

UPS (5X) and FedEx (FX) have also both increased their operations in PIT. 5X has added an additional daytime service from Louisville (SDF) while FX has added additional weekday service from Newark (EWR) and (IND).

Cathay Pacific Cargo B-HKH Boeing 747-412(BCF). photo: Brandon Frris/Airways

A Less Congested Alternative

PIT has a big advantage over congested cargo gateways like New York and Chicago, as airlines and freight forwarders often have to wait days to get their products offloaded and on the road. According to the airport, PIT can make that happen in a matter of hours.

Cargo carriers have consistently referenced that speed as a major selling point to utilize PIT; hence, why the airport received a major boost when the U.S. Department of Transportation announced an US$18.69m BUILD grant to support the construction of a 75,000-square-foot cargo processing facility and an adjacent surface parking lot. That facility is currently in the design phase.

Last but not least, airport officials signed an agreement with Ted Stevens Anchorage International (ANC) last summer to collaborate on streamlining the global air cargo supply chain.

Featurted image: Finnair F-WZGY (OH-LWL) Airbus A350-900 (Marimekko Kivet Livery). Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways