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Global Crossing Airlines One of Few to Make Israel Cargo Flights
Kalitta Air 777 converted freighter arrives in Tel Aviv for certification flights
Two freighter aircraft operated by Global Crossing Airlines, a startup charter airline based in Florida, are on their way to Israel with more than 50 tons of relief supplies as the country prepares for war. Global X, in shorthand, is the only known U.S. all-cargo operator and one of only a handful worldwide still operating to the Middle East war zone, where even FedEx and UPS have suspended flights.
The two Airbus A321 converted freighters are hopscotching their way to Tel Aviv, currently en route to Frankfurt, Germany, according to aircraft tracking site Flightradar24. The flights originated in Tampa and stopped at Portsmouth International Airport in New Hampshire and in Reykjavik, Iceland. The A321 is a narrowbody plane typically used for short-to-medium-haul routes and needs to stop for fuel on a transcontinental flight.
Global Crossing Airlines (USOTC: JETMF) Chairman and CEO Ed Wegel announced the aid flights on LinkedIn Monday evening, and that the two aircraft will carry medical supplies and gear for first responders. A third freighter will soon be dispatched with more supplies for Israel, he said.
“Today, we stand with Israel,” he said.
Company officials declined to provide further details about the mission to Israel, including the customer.
Miami-based Global Crossing entered revenue service two years ago with A320-family passenger jets providing charter flights for airlines, cruise lines, casinos, and hotel and resort destinations. The carrier earlier this year received its first two A321 leased freighters, which spent more than two decades ferrying passengers before being converted for dedicated cargo operations. The planes typically operate in the Caribbean (Miami – Kingston, Jamaica – Port-au-Prince, Haiti) and the Texas-Ohio corridor in the United States.
Global X is the only U.S. airline so far to operate the A321 converted freighter. It’s third aircraft, leased from Air Transport Services Group in Wilmington, Ohio, was delivered a week ago. The cargo jet has not had its operating specifications — the set of rules that an airline agrees to operate by — approved yet by the Federal Aviation Administration and isn’t authorized to fly yet.
Global X participates in the Defense Department’s commercial airlift program and deployed passenger aircraft to evacuate 1,500 refugees from Afghanistan in August 2021, shortly after receiving its aircraft operating certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport is less than 40 miles from the front lines of Israel’s war with Gaza, and a large majority of international airlines have canceled flights to the city while the country is still under rocket attack. United Airlines, Delta Air LInes and American Airlines have all temporarily paused direct flights to Tel Aviv. The State Department has sponsored charter flights with other carriers to repatriate American citizens who want to leave the country.
Only a handful of cargo airlines are still operating to Tel Aviv. Of the three global express carriers, only DHL is operating once or twice a day to the city from its hub in Leipzig, Germany. FedEx and UPS have suspended flights with their own aircraft, although they are still offering international parcel service by booking shipments on commercial passenger planes and other third-party carriers.
Israel-domiciled airline CAL Cargo Airlines, part of the Challenge Group, is flying regularly to Ben Gurion airport from its European hub in Liege, Belgium, according to the company and flight data.
Other all-cargo operations identified in recent days flying into Tel Aviv include Azerbaijan’s Silk Way West Airlines (Boeing 747-400), Lufthansa Cargo, Poland’s SkyTaxi and Turkey’s MNG Airlines (Airbus A300).
Also identified on the ground at Tel Aviv was a Boeing 777 freighter operated by Michigan-based Kalitta Air. Kalitta Air operates 25 Boeing 747-400 freighters, as well as four 777s.
But the aircraft in Israel was not part of the regular fleet. It’s a used passenger aircraft that was converted by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to a main-deck cargo configuration and returned for more testing, said Heath Nicholl, Kalitta’s deputy chief operating officer.
IAI is starting its second series of post-conversion evaluation flights as the company works to get its aircraft modification approved by Israeli and U.S. civil aviation authorities so the plane can be certified for commercial flying. IAI has previously indicated it expects to receive the supplemental certificate for changing the original design of the aircraft type later this year.
Kalitta is leasing the aircraft from AerCap, which acquired GE Capital Aviation Services and the 777 freighter program in November 2021. GECAS opted to repurpose older feedstock for cargo and is the launch customer for IAI’s conversion program. Kalitta Air will be the first operator of the 777 converted freighter. The only 777 freighters currently in operation around the world are factory-built by Boeing.
Last month, IAI reached an agreement with Ascent Aviation Services in Marana, Arizona, to set up a conversion site for the 777-300. Ascent is building two widebody hangers to support production, which is expected to start next year.
One of the steps Israeli authorities have taken to protect aircraft is to change the direction of approach to Ben Gurion airport so they avoid the conflict area near Gaza. Libby Bahat, head of aerial infrastructure for the Israel Civil Aviation Authority, said in a Wall Street Journal video report, that aircraft now take a more northern route than usual, bypassing Haifa. Military and civil air traffic controllers work closely together to ensure that missiles from the country’s Iron Dome defense system don’t impact civilian aircraft when they are intercepting Hamas missiles.
The government has also limited the number of passenger aircraft at the gate loaded with fuel and passengers. And when aircraft are ready to depart they are cleared immediately, with no waiting in line on the runway, according to the WSJ explainer.
Israeli officials insist their airspace is safe to operate in despite concerns from some experts that conditions for an accidental shootdown exist, including from nonstate actors on Israel’s northern border. Air traffic controllers have over 90 seconds to maneuver aircraft when a missile is fired, during which time the aircraft can cover about 10 miles, according to the officials. And Israeli interceptors are technically incapable of mistaking an aircraft, they add.
Other aviation experts have also raised concerns about Hamas using GPS jamming technology to interfere with military communications network, which has the potential to disrupt commercial traffic.
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on AirlineGeeks’ partner publication FreightWaves.
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