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From Rockets to Autos: Panalpina Expects to See More Use for the Giant Antonov 124

Today, a delivery for Huntsville’s aerospace industry.

Tomorrow, overly large, very heavy crucial parts and pieces for Alabama’s growing automotive manufacturing industry.

Workers show the huge space available to fly cargo in the giant Antonov-124. (Eric Schultz / Huntsville Business Journal)

As North Alabama’s automotive manufacturing industry takes off, so are heavy air freight cargo planes likely to soar in and out of the Port of Huntsville’s intermodal cargo center – and we mean really, really big birds such as the Russian Antonov 124, the second largest commercial cargo plane in the world.

In recent weeks, an Antonov sat for the first time alongside Panalpina’s Boeing 747–8 freighter at Huntsville International Airport.

While Panalpina operates Boeing 747-8 contour freighters out of Huntsville four times a week on a fixed schedule, the Antonov provides ad hoc flights on demand from Point A to Point B from just about anywhere in the world. At least, up until now, it only flies into Huntsville a couple times a year for special, overly large deliveries, primarily for the aerospace industry.

Matthias Frey, senior vice president and global head of the Panalpina Charter Network, said that is about to change.

“Manufacturing is among Panalpina’s most important industry verticals,” he said. “Automotive has become a growing priority for us in the state of Alabama and we expect it to get even bigger as they begin installing the assembly lines at the Mazda Toyota plant, and as automobiles begin rolling off that line.”

Frey said Panalpina’s Alabama delegation foresee a growing need for heavy cargo and air freight, especially in Huntsville and Mobile, and he said there is a need for all types of cargo aircraft to accomplish it.

“When you look, for instance at Amazon, their U.S. network uses the Boeing 767 because, although they ship tens of thousands of parcels, most of them are relatively small and stackable and they require speed,” he said.

Panalpina’s 747-8 is a stretch 747 that allows for higher cargo capacity and is a workhorse for standard heavy cargo.

“If you are talking about pharmaceuticals, engines, and mechanical parts, then normally you would go to a Boeing 747-8 like Panalpina,” Frey said.

The giant Antonov-124 has a 25 percent higher transportation than the Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxy (Eric Schultz / Huntsville Business Journal)

However, the Antonov’s substantially wider body, significantly higher overhead clearance, and hinged nose opens upward for front cargo loading. Built for paradropping and cargo-handling equipment, it is also equipped with two traveling cranes, two winches, a rollgang shifting device and tiedown equipment.

Aircraft and cargo specialists compare it to the Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxy, but it has a 25 percent higher transportation capability.    

“If you are moving something tall, wide and exceptionally heavy like large machinery and components, especially if you need a wider berth or a crane and winch for loading, then you are more likely to need the Antonov with its front-loading capability,” Frey said.

In 2018, the Panalpina Charter Network set a record with more than 1 million tons in air freight volume, according to a recent press release. The company expects the air freight market to grow by about 3 percent this year, with aerospace, perishables, and, now, automotive expected to be the biggest areas of growth.

New International Cargo Connection for HSV: Panalpina Launches Flights to Mexico

Panalpina has added Queretaro International Airport in Mexico to its charter network which also connects Mexico City and Guadalajara with Panalpina’s air freight gateway in Huntsville, according to a news release from Huntsville International Airport.

Querétaro’s addition to the regular connections of the Panalpina Charter Network means Panalpina is the only freight carrier to serve three international airports with scheduled flights within and out of Mexico.  Panalpina is also the first and only company to offer a transatlantic flight from Querétaro to London Stansted Airport in the UK and to Luxembourg via Huntsville.

Government representatives, members of the Huntsville Port Authority, partners and customers were on hand Thursday to celebrate the first scheduled landing of the Spirit of Panalpina at Querétaro International Airport.

“Panalpina has been committed to Queretaro for over five years now,” said Matthias Frey, global head of the Panalpina Charter Network. “We have been working closely with Queretaro airport operatives and government authorities, strategic airline partner Atlas Air, and Huntsville International Airport to build on the continued success of the network.”