MIAMI – Over the last decade, there have been a few Air-Sea ventures, the most recent being Maersk’s transition to air charters in October 2020. However, a project currently underway is special.

CMA CGM AIR CARGO is the result of a collaboration between two French companies that are both world leaders in their fields. On March 8, CMA CGM AIR CARGO, the air freight affiliate of the CMA CGM Group, a global leader in shipping and logistics, will fly for the first time.

CMA CGM, the world’s third-largest ocean freight company, has entrusted its marketing to ECS Group, the largest integrated GSSA in the world. According to a Cargoforwarder report, ECS Group signed a worldwide GSA cooperation on an exclusive basis with the new carrier on the block, CMA CGM AIR CARGO.

Comments from ESC Group CEO


Adrien Thominet, CEO ESC Group, starts by describing the size of CMA CGM, the French shipping business behind the new airline, and remembering that in early 2019, it purchased the freight-forwarding company CEVA Logistics as part of its plan to provide multinational logistics solutions and penetrate the air freight industry.

“We strongly believe that CMA CGM, a world leader in shipping and logistics, will become a key player in air freight operations.” He believes that the launch of four planes isn’t just a test project and it will develop into a full-fledged program. “They want to have full logistics services integration.”

The distinction, he believes, is that CMA CGM AIR CARGO, the company’s current air freight subsidiary, would represent a global range of clients rather than only serving its own in-house businesses.

Qatar Airways A7-AEG Airbus A330-302. Photo: John Leivaditis/Airways

Two of Four A330-F, Ready to Start Operations


The first two A330 freighters acquired from Qatar Airways (QR) are currently awaiting their latest livery and will begin operation on March 8 and 16. Thominet explains that the two planes will focus on operating a Europe-North America service, with six flights per week originating from Liège, Belgium.

“There will be six flights a week from Liège to Chicago, back and forth,” says Thominet. But why Liège? For one thing, since it lacks its own AOC, Air Belgium will be working on behalf of CMA CGM AIR Freight, and for another, with the assistance of ECS Group sales operations, the aim is to expand capacity and reach the e-Airfreight business.

Qatar Airways Cargo A7-BFR Boeing 777-F. Photo: Fabrizio Spicuglia/Airways

The perfect Start and a Learning Process


For a few years, CMA CGM had considered entering the air cargo business. However, they began working on the strategy and took it seriously as meetings and coordination between CMA CGM and the ECS Group began. As they drive toward diversification, the ECS Group has convinced them to use a lean, cost-effective GSA air cargo sales scheme.

“It was a very interesting learning curve for them and us to quickly learn how to become an airfreight operator, to become a strong player. They are entering the market at a good moment, because of course the yields are very high, and the market has room today for this kind of operation,” Thominet says. He underlines that “there is a strong appetite from key freight forwarders and key e-commerce shippers” for the new service.

Photo: CMA CGM AIR CARGO

Multimodal Solutions Planned


According to CFG, Thominet stresses the deep involvement of CMA CGM in deploying real multimodal solutions. “They are one of the largest sales networks in terms of sea freight, and their managers in each port of the world are reporting that every day, besides sea freight, their own customers are in need of air freight solutions,” Something they’ll be able to solve now, with the prospect of in-house air-sea-inland options.

“I believe there is potential to develop new logistics solutions, especially in this Covid-situation,” He agrees, that while Covid-19 was not the impetus for this strategic transition, it was definitely a catalyst. However, this transition to air freight is a natural extension of Rodolphe Saadé’s approach as Chairman and CEO of the CMA CGM Group.

The CMA CGM emphasized this multimodal endeavor in a press release dated February 23, 2021: “CMA CGM’s Airbus A330-200Fs will be based at Liège, one of Europe’s busiest freight hubs, strategically located in the heart of a large population center and benefiting from a number of intermodal transportation options: air, shipping, road, and rail.”

MIA Cargo Ramp Photo: © Max Taubman – @maximumaviation

Success Passes through Innovation


CMA CGM places a high value on innovation, which is in line with the ECS Group’s goal. According to the report, two years ago, the ECS Group began aggressively working on digitalization, almost expecting what will happen in 2020, and it paid off.

CMA CGM also used ECS Group’s in-house business intelligence and training tools, as well as a personalized air cargo reservation program, to prepare for the case. As a result, Adrien Thominet adds that “It was easy for them to plug in with ECS Group and have access to all our commercial and operational solutions – a quick fit!”


Featured image: CMA CGM AIR CARGO