Cargo specialists only operate freighters. They may, or may not, contract with passenger airlines for use of lower-hold capacity.
Such players are strong competitors in market niches with specialized requirements, such as oversized cargo or cold chain.
General market operators are often “combination” carriers, flying both passengers and cargo. Lower holds on passenger flights are used to feed freighter flights.
Passenger airlines that operate freighters achieve much better load factors in the lower hold than do passenger airlines that carry cargo but do not operate freighters, emphasizing the critical role that freighters play in creating effective cargo networks. Both operator types tend to use their freighters in similar ways, flying relatively short stages, loading and offloading cargo at various points along a general route, in a pattern often referred to as “load building”. Sixth freedom cargo hubs are also a feature of these networks; given that the bilateral agreements covering cargo carriage tend to be more liberal than those covering passenger travel. Cargo specialists and general market operators have high airplane utilization rates, and are successful at building loads that fully utilize the structural and volumetric capabilities of the aircraft. These airlines emphasize unit costs over acquisition costs resulting in a preference for large, capable, factory-built freighters.
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