Cargolux Makes Odd (?) Pivot Into Aerial Firefighting!

By Spyros Georgilidakis | January 13, 2024

We know Cargolux as an operator of 747 freighters, but the company has now launched an aerial firefighting unit, in time for next summer!

This is a strange period for air cargo operators. Before 2020, some of these companies faced a tightening economy, while the needs of the cargo market were shifting. Rising trends in e-commerce meant that many companies needed different freighters than what they had, focusing on volume, rather than weight.

Photo: Hans Dorries

Some companies, like Cargolux, also had a niche as haulers of oversized cargo, thanks to their fleet of 747 freighters with front cargo doors. However, the company now has orders for 777-8 freighters, too. But how does a fleet of Cargolux aerial firefighting aircraft fit into this story?

The Cargolux Aerial Firefighting Fleet

Well, first let’s have a look at what the company is actually doing. Cargolux first announced its firefighting plans nearly a month ago, releasing more details this week. The company will purchase a total of 12 Air Tractor AT-802F Fire Bosses.

Cargolux Makes Odd (?) Pivot Into Aerial Firefighting!
Photo: Cargolux

To operate this fleet, Cargolux launched a subsidiary that it has named Aquarius Aerial Firefighting, or Aquarius AFF. Cargolux has already picked up the first three of its AT-802F Fire Bosses. The remaining nine should join the fleet over the next three years.

However, the new Cargolux subsidiary should be ready to operate in its aerial firefighting capacity from May this year. This aligns reasonably well with the start of the summer fire season, for much of Europe.

Cargolux Makes Odd (?) Pivot Into Aerial Firefighting!
Photo: Cargolux

So why is a company like Cargolux doing this? Well, cargo companies remained quite busy during the pandemic, when passenger airliners weren’t flying. About 50% of the world’s air cargo capacity is in the spare cargo hold space of passenger jets. So with passenger jets mostly staying grounded in 2020-22, air freighters were very much in demand.

A Chance To Try Something New?

This means that many air cargo operators now have some cash in hand. Some have used it to accelerate re-fleeting efforts, especially if they had old DC-10s and MD-11s. But Cargolux had a reasonably young 747 fleet, with little opportunity for renewals, now that The Queen of the Skies is out of production.

Photo: Agesch, CC BY-SA 4.0

With demand for cargo now going down (and capacity going up), aerial firefighting may well be a reasonable experiment for Cargolux to embark on. There certainly is strong seasonal demand for capable firefighting aircraft, and many European countries already hire operators of AT-802 Fire Bosses and other fixed-wing planes and helicopters.

Many countries prefer smaller aircraft like these, which can replenish their load quickly if there is a body of water within minutes of flying time from the fire. This tends to be the case for many countries in southern Europe, in particular. The firefighting aircraft that Cargolux shows have Spanish registrations.

Cargolux Makes Odd (?) Pivot Into Aerial Firefighting!
Air Tractors and Cargolux 747s on the same ramp? Why not? Photo: Cargolux

It will be interesting to see if other cargo operators try their hand at firefighting, like Cargolux, or find other areas to pivot to, or invest in. It is certainly odd to see the potent but small Air Tractor turboprops share a ramp with Cargolux 747s!



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