A DHL regional cargo airline that operates a fleet of midsize Boeing 757 cargo jets from its base in Austria expects to add four Boeing 767 converted freighters this year for its European network but is seeking the option to fly them to the U.S.
DHL Air Austria will deploy 767-300 cargo jets in September to deliver packages and freight in Europe, a spokesman said in an email message that didn’t mention a specific number of aircraft. A request to U.S. authorities to open U.S. routes is purely precautionary, he explained.
In a filing last month, the express company’s Austrian airline asked U.S. authorities for a license to conduct scheduled and ad hoc charter operations to the U.S., as well as a two-year exemption from the requirement to have a foreign carrier permit so it can begin flying while the Department of Transportation processes its request. The document states the carrier plans to secure four 767-300s and fly them to and from the U.S.
DHL officials declined to identify the source for the planes, but they are believed to be part of a November 2021 order with Boeing for nine passenger-to-freighter conversions of 767 aircraft for its intercontinental fleet. The 767 is a medium widebody freighter.
DHL Air Austria is one of six airlines owned by Deutsche Post DHL (DXE: DPW) to support its parcel delivery network and is part of the DHL Aviation group, which includes several contract carriers. Based at Vienna International Airport, it was formed in 2021 when DHL transferred 18 B757 narrowbody freighters and pilots there from East Midlands Airport in the United Kingdom to operate intra-European routes. DHL Air UK was transformed into the group’s international long-haul wing with a mandate to fly long-haul aircraft. The U.K. air unit has 10 767s, three 777s and five 757s in service, according to database Planespotters.net.
Airlines often ask for a foreign carrier permit as a placeholder so they have the authority in place if, or when, they are ready to launch a service, according to aviation attorneys. The airlines are under no obligation to use the permit. And sometimes airlines will obtain traffic rights so they are eligible for government contracts, such as for mail carriage, and can book the freight space on a partner airline’s flight that shares its designator code. Code sharing is a way for airlines to expand their market presence on routes they don’t serve.
Adding language referring to a specific start date can encourage regulators to stay focused on an application so it doesn’t languish even if the carrier doesn’t have concrete plans to begin operations.
“In this case, just because we are asking for permission to theoretically serve transatlantic routes with our aircraft does not mean that there are concrete plans to do so. It’s about being prepared and not having to request the permit on short notice if this should ever change,” the DHL spokesman said.
In related news, Mesa Air Group said in its second-quarter earnings presentation this month that it incorporated a 737-800 converted freighter to its fleet that operates for DHL Express out of its Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport hub. The plane was provided to Mesa by DHL. Mesa Air Group also flies three 737-400 converted freighters for DHL’s network.
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