Air Canada cargo chief Jason Berry is leaving after two years to return to Seattle-based Alaska Air Group as vice president of operations at regional carrier Horizon Air, the parent company announced Thursday.
Less than a month ago, Air Canada was hailing Berry’s selection as “Cargo Executive of the Year” by industry publication Air Cargo World.
Two sources close to Berry said he decided to leave Air Canada for family reasons. His wife is of Japanese descent and wasn’t happy in Montreal, where Air Canada is headquartered. The Pacific Northwest has a large Japanese population and culture and it wasn’t the same in Quebec, where French is the primary language, they said.
Berry’s departure comes as Air Canada (OTCUS: ACDVF) leans into building a new freighter division and capabilities for shipping customers. He developed the business case for investing hundreds of millions of dollars to increase the size of the all-cargo fleet.
Last year the airline deployed three Boeing 767 converted freighters — the first cargo jets it has owned in nearly two decades — as part of a strategic move to capitalize on air cargo growth driven by e-commerce and shipper interest in more consistent capacity. Air Canada Cargo’s dedicated fleet is scheduled to reach 12 aircraft, including two Boeing 777s, in 2024.
“Jason Berry remains with Air Canada Cargo until mid February and a successor will be named in due course. There will be no impact on Air Canada’s plans to build its dedicated freighter fleet,” Air Canada said in a statement to FreightWaves.
An industry executive, who didn’t want to be identified discussing a competitor, said Berry’s decision is “a real blow” to Air Canada. “He left a lot for somebody else to pick up” and any successor might second-guess previous decisions. “There are major league hurdles to clear.”
During his tenure, air cargo revenue surged as the company reimagined grounded passenger aircraft as mini-freighters during COVID.
Berry was the architect of Cargo’s new network, which includes Dallas, Atlanta, Miami, Ecuador and Peru to the south and trans-Atlantic routes from Toronto and Halifax, Nova Scotia. He was instrumental in Air Canada’s recent expansion of a refrigerated warehouse in Toronto and the cargo terminal in Frankfurt, Germany, as well as partnerships with digital freight marketplaces.
Berry recently touted Air Canada’s new equine service and the planned upgrade of a cargo facility in Vancouver as examples of how the new freighters were driving new business opportunities.
“Since joining Air Canada to lead our cargo division, he has demonstrated his ability to build and lead a strong team that is well positioned to drive our cargo business forward. Coming to Air Canada Cargo at the height of the pandemic presented a unique set of challenges, and he rose to meet them head on,” said Lucie Guillemette, chief commercial officer at Air Canada, in a Dec. 12 news release. “He sought out new opportunities, implemented new strategies, oversaw the introduction of our Boeing 767 freighters and furthered investments in technology and our people to position the business for growth and continued success.”
Berry, who also spent more than a decade at Cargolux, took the helm at Air Canada Cargo six months after Tim Strauss left to head Miami-based Amerijet.
It’s a homecoming for Berry, who went to college in Washington and spent many years working in the Seattle area, including six years directing cargo operations at Alaska Airlines and then 18 months as president of McGee Air Services, an Alaska Airlines company, before joining Air Canada as vice president of cargo. During his career he also worked for Cargolux and two ground handling agents in Seattle.
He will start his new role late next month, an Alaska Air spokesperson said.
Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.
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