Western Global 747-400 providing peak season capacity at MSP in 2018.
Updated December 16, 2019
Every December, holiday shopping in the US creates a huge demand for air cargo, as gifts get sent between distribution centers, retailers, and consumers. Peak season creates some great spotting opportunities for aviation enthusiasts as well, as cargo airlines increase frequency, swap equipment, and lease capacity from other carriers - virtually every airport that sees regular mainline cargo traffic will see some unusual activity.
If you're interested in seeing some of these flights, check out our smart flight alert service - you'll get an automatic notification when unusual-to-your-airport equipment is on the way in.
Based on analysis of the smart flight alerts we've been sending to subscribers across the US, here's a look at equipment that went into service starting in late November. We'll try to keep things updated as peak continues.
- N881YV, B762, appears to be starting for UPS December 16.
- N999YV, B762, flying for CargoJet since December 1
Two or three 767-300s, presumably operating for UPS, most of them starting on November 26.
- N317CM: SDF-MHT
- N363CM: MHR-CAE
Starting December 9:
- N798AX, 767-200 appears to be flying for UPS as well.
ABX also operates flights for DHL and Amazon, and their 767 freighters have been throwing alerts at other airports, mostly for flights to/from DHL's hub at CVG.
- 747-8F VP-BJS made stops at CVG (with a diversion to IAD) between December 11 and 12.
Amazon's US air cargo network is dominated by 767s operated by Atlas and ATI. Further analysis is needed to see if there are new routes or increased frequencies, however, based on alerts getting thrown for aircraft in Amazon's livery, they're not serving new cities as part of their peak operations. That's probably only noteworthy in that it confirms Amazon's fully utilizing their fleet, and aircraft in Amazon colors aren't getting bounced over to support Atlas or ATI's peak support for UPS or DHL.
- N316CM, B763, operating for UPS since December 7 SMF-PHL-SMF
- N396CM, B763, operating for FedEx since December 1
Asia Pacific Airlines
Repeating what was seen last year, an Asia Pacific Airlines 757 has started flying west coast routes for UPS on December 9.
- N888LT: flying between BFI, MHR, ONT, and PDX.
- 747-400F HL7421 made a stop at MIA on December 12.
747-400s, operating for FedEx since December 2. Atlas flights operating for FedEx fly with FedEx flight numbers, most appear to be replacements for existing routes. Some examples include:
- FDX2: MEM - STN
- FDX4: MEM - CGN, MEM - CDG
- FDX51: MEM - SJU
- FDX415: ONT - MEM
- FDX802: MEM - ONT
- FDX5038: MEM-CGN
Atlas aircraft operating on behalf of FedEx:
- N405KZ (white tail)
- N416MC, Ex-Polar/DHL livery
- N471MC, white tail
747-400s for UPS since November 19. Atlas flights for UPS fly with Atlas flight numbers, many are direct replacements for existing UPS routes with the same number, others appear to be new. Atlas 747-400 aircraft operating on behalf of UPS:
On Monday, December 9, six additional Atlas 744s started flying for UPS.
- N404KZ (white tail)
- N782CK (white tail)
- N492MC (apparently swapped with N496MC on Dec 10)
- N496MC (apparently returned to DoD flying on Dec 10)
USPS flights, perhaps? Starting December 11.
- N409MC, flying MEM-ANC-MEM
UPS, starting December 16.
Two 767-300s flying out of SDF for UPS, starting November 26. Have been flying between MCO, MIA, PHL, and SDF.
Starting December 9 for UPS, two B762:
- N663GT (white tail)
Also worth noting - N360CM is still wearing a unique patched Air Incheon livery, N409AZ is flying in patched Delta colors.
Cathay Pacific Cargo
747-8F threw high priority alerts after stopping at SDF on December 6, and again on December 13 - looks like they're doing weekly service again this year. They've also thrown alerts at ORD and JFK this season.
Canadian freight hauler CargoJet has also been increasing activity, triggering alerts at ATL, MIA, SEA, YQT, YVR, YYT.
FedEx aircraft have thrown alerts at many, many airports across the US as they adjust equipment assignments for peak. As mentioned elsewhere in this post, Atlas and Kalitta 744s are also being substituted on some of their long routes.
A single 727-200 noted so far, flying SDF-RIV for UPS.
Several additional 747-400s operating out of MEM for USPS. Destinations include HNL, LAX, SFO, and SJU. Started December 1.
- N740CK (Kalitta / DHL)
Eight Kalitta 744s went into service for UPS on December 9 or 10:
Korean Air Cargo
- 747-400F HL7602 made unusual stops at ORD and YYZ on December 12.
National Airlines flew for UPS in 2018's peak season, but both of their active 744Fs are currently flying military routes. Perhaps they'll join UPS in the next round?
Also worth noting, per PlaneSpotters.net, they've got three more 747 freighters and an A330-200F joining their fleet in the near future; none of them have flown recently (per FlightAware), so hopes for them participating in peak would seem slim, though.
On December 16, N919CA, one of their older 747s, did an odd hop through CVG, before going to SDF. Too early to know for sure if they're doing domestic peak work or not, but, something to monitor.
Nippon Cargo 748F JA17KZ made a stop at YWG on December 9; unsure if it'll be a recurrent peak flight.
Silk Way West
Silk Way West 747-8Fs have thrown smart flight alerts at ANC, DFW, CVG, MIA so far this year.
Singapore Cargo B744 threw alerts at CVG and SEA December 15/16.
It appears that all three of SkyLease Cargo's active aircraft are in service for UPS starting December 9 or 10.
- N903AR: SkyLease (Right) / Chinese Fish (Left)
- N904AR: SkyLease (Right) / BST + Navitrans (Left)
- N950AR: flying SDF-ORD-SDF so far; started December 9.
A handful of alerts have been triggered for their 747 at MIA and LAX; unsure if peak related.
In the United States, noteworthy equipment appearances for aviation enthusiasts during peak season are largely due to UPS's reliance on partners for additional capacity. The first big round of wet leased equipment started flying for UPS around November 26, and another round will be starting the week of December 9. We've heard 21 Air, Atlas, and Asia Pacific will be sending additional aircraft to UPS at that time.
As with FedEx, there have been many smart flight alerts sent for unusual UPS equipment being reallocated throughout their network.
Annoyingly, WGA flights don't usually trigger alerts until after they've arrived and departed; fortunately for enthusiasts, they seem to quickly establish an operational pattern. As in past years, they have a good number of aircraft operating out of SDF for UPS... in fact, nearly all of their operational aircraft are now flying for UPS.
- N344KD, 747-400, to SDF on December 10 for UPS
- N356KD, 747-400, to SDF on December 2 for UPS operations.
MD-11s; started on November 26. Have been bouncing through CLE, DFW, ONT, ORD, PDX, PHL, SDF, and SLC.
- N415JN: white tail
- N435KD: white tail
- N512JN: white tail
- N513SN: white tail
- N542KD: first flights since April
- N581JN: large titles / no tail logo
Starting December 9:
Nick lives in Burnsville, MN with his wife and three children. He grooves on railroad and aviation photography, politics, geography, weather, and LEGO. He started JetTip's smart flight alert service in 2017, and is now a full-time avgeek. He can frequently be found atop a step ladder at MSP's Aircraft Viewing Area.