American Airlines rides wave of modernisation within the airfreight industry


American Airlines handles all types of cargo, from perishables to life-saving medicine. Every day, the airline’s cargo team is involved in transporting important goods around the world. Over the last few years, vaccines and PPE has been in the focus but American has been involved in the movement of critical medical shipments long before the pandemic, with organs for transplant, critical medical equipment and more having been moved by the carrier. 

“In the commercial space, we’ve always been trusted to move the most important, time-sensitive goods, whether it’s the latest phones that are needed on the shelf at first launch, or manufacturing components that keep assembly lines moving for the some of the world’s greatest products,” Brian Hodges, Managing Director of Strategy and Planning at American Airlines Cargo, said. 

Changing times 

The airfreight market has experienced quite a bit of change over the last two years and, as history shows, there’s no doubt that this will continue. “Our plan is to continue maximising our current network capacity and seeing where we can serve our customers even more, like through narrowbody connections or trucking, Hodges said. 

As with other airlines that have a strong passenger operation, when the pandemic grounded travellers, American looked at how it can maximise the potential of its cargo division to keep the company financially stable in times of difficulty. “Our cargo-only flying programme is one of our most-valued accomplishments,” Hodges said proudly.  

American’s first cargo-only flights took off on a Boeing 777-300ER aircraft between DFW-FRA on March 20—23, 2022. “Our amazing Cargo Sales team booked these flights to 100% capacity within 24 hours of the flights being on the schedule. We worked with multiple teams across the airline to make this happen – making it our first cargo-only flight since 1984. We went on to operate more than 10,000 more flights in the two years to follow,” Hodges explained. 

“While we recognise the market is on a journey back to pre-pandemic stabilisation, we also understand we have all learned from the pandemic and will likely approach business a bit differently,” Hodges stated. “Things that come to mind are industry collaboration, digital distribution and being able to offer customers more options. We’ve learned the importance of agility and adaptability these last two years, and we are focused on maintaining those positions as we evolve our business.”  

“There’s a lot of change happening right now, not just in the air cargo market but around the world and in the global economy. We’re seeing inflation, increased interest rates, buyer hesitancy as prices increase, individuals and business looking to take more frugal approaches, etc. These factors impact almost everyone, and air cargo is no different. The supply/demand relationship is changing due to these economic impacts, combined with an increase of capacity into the market as carriers re-deploy aircraft to meet passenger demand,” Hodges said. 

Read more: American Airlines Cargo announces new department leadership appointments

Embracing digitalisation 

American recognises how technological innovations are changing the air cargo industry, as digitalisation takes hold. Looking to leverage industry leading technology, the cargo wing of American Airlines hopes to offer customers enhanced supply chain tools for a smoother and more efficient shipping process. 

“Digital distribution is a really big focus of ours right now – with both third party platform partnerships and our own booking channel on 2022 brought about some very significant changes that improved the online experience and allowed our users to complete their transactions quickly and efficiently,” Hodges said.  

Some examples of American’s digital development is offering online booking for animal shippers, making changes to allotment bookings to allow for multiple and repeat bookings, and improving our capacity search tool to provide more confidence to users earlier in the booking path. 

“I definitely see digitalisation moving and shaping this industry. The air cargo industry as a whole has been behind on the overall modernisation front compared to other industries, but the pandemic challenged that. We had to find a new way of doing business and uncover efficiencies along the supply chain and within our relationships with teams and customers alike,” Hodges added. 

American has already begun the process of replacing its end-to-end distribution platform with iCargo, simplifying systems and creating a foundation for future growth and innovation. 

“The reason I see technology changing the business model is that in order to really push the air cargo industry forward, every player along the supply chain needs to modernise through digitalisation as well. We saw how much the globe counted on air cargo during the pandemic, and we need to have the tools, data, collaboration, partnerships and agility to continue serving the world into the future. Digitalisation enables this,” Hodges stated. 

Read more: American Airlines Cargo extends its transatlantic network this winter

Diverse fleet 

As American evolves and builds for the future, it has renewed its fleet with hundreds of new planes to bring both passengers and shippers a modern and connected experience. With both Airbus and Boeing aircraft in operation, American has sought to maximise the potential of widebody aircraft, seeing it as the best passenger plane for cargo. “They have the greatest capacity and usually are deployed on long-haul international routes. While this is true, we also focus on how we can best utilise our narrowbody and regional aircraft more efficiently,” Hodges explained. 

With American’s passenger network offering cargo customers enormous opportunities to connect across the US and other parts of the world, the airline believes it’s well-suited to handle e-commerce traffic that’s been growing in recent months and years. “A diverse fleet allows us to acquire and deploy aircraft to more markets than ever before, enabling us to offer our customers the best network possible,” Hodges added.  

Growing Team 

American Airlines began 2023 where it left off in 2022, announcing a new department leadership appointment. Indy Bolina has been appointed as the Head of Global Sales, reporting to Roger Samways, Vice President of Commercial, leading American’s global sales team supporting the carrier’s extensive customer base. 

Bolina’s appointment comes after the promotion of Hodges to Managing Director of Strategy and Planning back in October, putting him in charge of a team focused on the cargo carrier’s business development initiatives. 

“These appointments are not only well deserved for both leaders, but strategically enable our business to deliver on our promise to our customers and modernise our business in a way that makes a real difference. I look forward to seeing Indy and Brian pave a strong path forward toward our business goals next year,” Greg Schwendinger, Cargo President, said. 

Schwedinger himself was only recently brought in as the new President of American Airlines Cargo. Bringing a seasoned background and skillset, the carrier hopes he will help them refine how they conduct the airfreight business and serve customers. “We are thrilled to have Greg as our new leader. I had the opportunity to get to know Greg early in my career and am excited to have the chance to work with him,” Hodges said. “I’m looking forward to our customers and partners getting to know Greg and learning about his vision for American Airlines Cargo.”