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European Cargo Airline Cargolux Launches Aerial Firefighting Unit

Proliferation of wildfires spurs demand for quick-attack capability

Cargolux is establishing a fleet of 12 Air Tractor AT-802 Fire Boss aircraft that can drop retardants on wildfires. (Photo: Cargolux)

Freighter operator Cargolux, the eighth-largest all-cargo operator by traffic, is diversifying with a new firefighting business line.

The Luxembourg-based airline announced Friday that the new venture, called Aquarius Aerial Firefighting, will operate a fleet of 12 Air Tractor AT-802F Fire Boss aircraft. The single-engine air tankers, a mix of single and double-seaters, will be acquired over a three-year period. The first three aircraft have already been delivered and are expected to be deployed in May.

Cargolux is investing $72 million in the new aircraft, said spokeswoman Moa Sigurdardottir. The firefighting division will have about 40 to 45 employees.

Cargolux, which operates 30 Boeing 747 freighters, also offers third-party maintenance services for 747s at its home base. Firefighting represents a good opportunity because there is a shortage in Europe, and other regions, of aerial capacity to drop water and retardants on forest fires.

Wildfires have exploded in number and intensity across North America and Europe during the past five years, fueled by extreme weather patterns and global warming.

“Over the past years, we have witnessed wildfires becoming a growing global issue that requires a rapid response. Not only do such fires emit significant amounts of CO2 but they pose a significant danger to lives and livelihoods. As a responsible corporate citizen I see it as our responsibility to help tackle this problem. I look forward to Aquarius Aerial Firefighting becoming an integral part of the solution,” said Cargolux CEO Richard Forson in a news release.

The Fire Boss tanker is designed to attack wildfires while they are still small and contain their spread. Its agility allows it to operate in terrain – mountain areas, narrow flight corridors and urban-rural interface zones – where larger aircraft can’t maneuver, or effectively impact a fire, according to the Olney, Texas-based manufacturer. The tanker is able to come in low and slow to pinpoint the drop of water or flame retardant.

The Fire Boss can be configured with an amphibious water scooper, allowing the plane to resupply from nearby water sources and make more drops. Powered by a Pratt & Whitney PT6A-67AG turbine engine, the plane can hit top speeds of 200 mph.

Sustainable Aviation Fuel

Cargolux’s shareholders are Luxembourg flag carrier Luxair, Henan Civil Aviation Development and Investment Co. in China, and two state-controlled Luxembourg banks. The government of Luxembourg owns 8.3% of the airline.

In 2022, the company generated a record profit of $1.6 billion.

Meanwhile, Cargolux has committed to a long-term purchase agreement with Norsk e-Fuel for sustainable aviation fuel, the companies announced Wednesday.

Norsk e-Fuel is building a production facility in Mosjøen, Norway, and will start to provide fossil-free fuels to the aviation industry after 2026. Norsk e-Fuel is made by capturing carbon dioxide and using electricity from renewable sources.

Cargolux will also provide capital support for construction of two more facilities by 2030.

Editor’s Note: This story first appeared on FreightWaves.

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Author

  • Eric Kulisch

    Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals and a Silver Medal from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government and trade coverage, and news analysis. He was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He won Environmental Journalist of the Year from the Seahorse Freight Association in 2014 and was the group's 2013 Supply Chain Journalist of the Year. In December 2022, he was voted runner up for Air Cargo Journalist by the Seahorse Freight Association. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips

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