Air Cargo Boom in Supply Chain Crunch lets car tires fly first class

The global air freight industry flies planes at nearly 90% capacity, while record volumes of goods move around the world, heading for free-spending consumers and parts-hungry manufacturers.

Packed planes pose a challenge to shippers, airlines and airports entering the traditional U.S. high season for moving goods, as demand for consumer electronics, homeware and clothing increases ahead of holiday shopping.

Bottlenecks include overcrowded cargo warehouses at the airport, spills of goods in off-site facilities and exacerbating the shortage of personnel to sort, load and unload jets. Airlines have responded by extending cargo flights beyond major gateways to cities like Columbus, Ohio and Tampa, Florida, to avoid congestion. Sometimes the cabins of recycled passenger aircraft are used for cargo.

“We are at the limit,” said Bernhard Kindelbacher, head of cargo operations in the US and Canada for Deutsche Lufthansa AG, one of the world’s largest air freight carriers.

Charles Goodwin, director of operations at the Columbus Regional Airport Authority, said tires between the seats of recycled passenger planes are among the cargo now flown that once traveled by sea.