The world’s largest transport traces, flush with money, are shopping for their very own fleets of cargo planes and including airlifts for giant shoppers prepared to pay additional to get round supply-chain snarls at sea ensuing from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Flying items by air is the final—and priciest—choice for a lot of producers and retailers. Nonetheless, demand for air cargo surged final yr amid port backlogs and excessive volumes of products making an attempt to maneuver across the globe.

Liners like Danish big

A.P. Moller-Maersk

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A/S and France’s CMA CGM SA, which collectively function greater than 1,000 ships, say they aren’t seeking to compete immediately with airfreight majors like

FedEx Corp.

and

United Parcel Service Inc.,

which ship thousands and thousands of packages internationally.

Delivery executives say they plan to make use of the planes to complement their core ocean freight enterprise, at a time when transferring cargo on time is at a premium. They’re additionally seeking to develop past their boats into end-to-end logistics suppliers.

The Covid pandemic has strained world provide chains, inflicting freight backlogs which have pushed up prices. Now, some firms are in search of longer-term options to organize for future supply-chain crises, even when these methods come at a excessive price. Picture Illustration: Jacob Reynolds

Scores of ships proceed to queue up exterior main ports like Los Angeles, Tianjin and Ningbo in China, Felixstowe in England, and Antwerp in Belgium, typically ready weeks to load or unload 1000’s of containers.

“We’ll develop airfreight quick as a result of we want it,” mentioned Ferwin Wieringa, head of airfreight at Maersk.

Airfreight accounts for lower than 1% of world commerce by quantity however 35% by worth, in response to the Worldwide Air Transport Affiliation, a commerce group.

Ocean-shipping firms function only a fraction of the variety of planes operated by the airfreight business’s leaders. FedEx, UPS and the DHL unit of Deutsche Put up AG, for instance, have round 1,000 plane at their disposal and deal with lots of of flights every day. Earlier than the pandemic, a lot worldwide airfreight was dealt with by airways within the bellies of passenger jets.

In contrast to these firms, Maersk and its friends wish to ship pallets loaded with numerous items, typically for a single or a handful of shoppers, reasonably than bundles of smaller packages.

FedEx’s world community has been constructed over 50 years and is sort of not possible to copy, a FedEx spokesman mentioned. “We’ll proceed to lean into the dynamic progress of e-commerce with the power to flex our networks in response to altering market situations.”

Maersk agreed final yr to purchase German freight forwarder and airfreight specialist Senator Worldwide for $644 million, with the buyout set to double the corporate’s air-cargo quantity when it’s accomplished later this yr. Maersk subsidiary Star Air operates 15

Boeing Co.

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767 freighters and is leasing one other three. It has additionally ordered two 777 plane.

CMA CGM, which in 2019 purchased logistics specialist CEVA Logistics for $1.67 billion, launched its personal airfreight service in 2021 when a lot of the worldwide commercial-jet fleet was grounded due to the pandemic’s journey restrictions.

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The corporate purchased 4

Airbus

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SE A330 freighters in 2021 and plans so as to add three Boeing 777s this spring. In January, it accomplished an order for 4 Airbus A350s that can begin arriving in 2025.

“It’s reinforcing our relationship with our clients. They’re delighted and ask for extra,” mentioned

Olivier Casanova,

the chief govt of CMA CGM Air Cargo.

Cargo planes transfer every little thing from auto elements to meals, and throughout the pandemic have been used to hold hard-to-find semiconductors, Covid-19 vaccines and hospital gear, in addition to expertise merchandise and clothes for giant attire manufacturers. Planes even have been more and more used to move lithium batteries for electrical automobiles and different purposes, executives mentioned.

Airfreight is on common greater than six instances the price of ocean cargo, although charges range relying on the route and different elements, in response to

Peter Sand,

chief analyst at Xeneta, a transport analytics market platform.

Earlier than the pandemic, airfreight was as a lot as 17 instances the price, Mr. Sand mentioned. The value hole has shrunk due to record-high ocean-freight charges over the previous yr.

Write to Costas Paris at costas.paris@wsj.com

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