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FedEx airfreight partner ASL Aviation acquires Australia’s Pionair

Airline continues global expansion, will provide larger cargo jets to new subsidiary

ASL Aviation operates several 737-800 converted freighters (pictured) and has more on order. (Photo: ASL Aviation)

(Editor’s Note: This story was updated April 6, 2023, 7:10 p.m. ET will additional information about ASL’s new credit line.)

ASL Aviation Holdings, a provider of dedicated charter cargo transport for Amazon Air, FedEx and DHL, has acquired Australian airline Pionair and will supply it with larger freighters than previously operated to help capture more express parcel and e-commerce business.

Dublin-based ASL Group operates airlines in Ireland, Belgium, France and the United Kingdom, as well as a low-cost passenger airline in South Africa, Quikjet Cargo Airlines in India and a joint venture express delivery airline in Thailand. Pionair will be renamed ASL Airlines Australia.

The investment gives Pionair the resources to grow its cargo fleet and services. 

“Expansion into the Australian and Oceania markets was a logical step for ASL as we develop our services globally to meet the needs of our customers,” said ASL Aviation Holdings Chief Executive Dave Andrew in Monday’s announcement. 

Pionair provides contract transportation for passenger and cargo airlines in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands with a dozen aircraft. The fleet includes several short- to medium-range BAe146 convertible airliners in which seats can quickly be added or removed depending on whether passengers or containers are to be carried. Since 2016, Pionair has operated cargo aircraft for TNT/FedEx (NYSE: FDX), first as a subcontractor to Virgin Australia and now through Qantas.

Qantas is also a major provider of domestic airlift for Australia Post.

ASL Aviation said it will allocate a Boeing 737-800 converted freighter to Pionair to increase its capabilities. ASL is halfway through a five-year fleet renewal program that includes reservations with Boeing for production slots to convert 40 used 737-800 passenger jets to full-time freighters.

ASL Aviation has more than 140 aircraft ranging from ATR72-600 turboprops to Boeing 747 jumbo jets and operates the largest 737-800 freighter fleet in the world. The 737-800 can carry more than 26 tons of freight on medium-haul routes and is 15% more efficient than older 737 versions.

Australia is the eleventh largest e-commerce market in the world. Online sales are estimated to reach $43 billion this year and grow at a 10.4% compound annual rate through 2027, according to Statista. Many sales are generated in China.

ASL said the deal meets all regulatory requirements and is effective immediately.

Meanwhile, the airline also announced this week it closed on a $155 million credit facility with Goldman Sachs available to be tapped over a 15-month period. ASL already has a $200 million dollar credit line with Goldman dating back to July of last year and 2021. The money will be used to fund the 737-800 conversion program. ASL said it expects to receive five more planes from the Boeing order book by mid year, bringing it to the halfway mark of the Boeing deal.

Click here for more FreightWaves stories by Eric Kulisch.


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Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals and a Silver Medal from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government and trade coverage, and news analysis. He was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. In December 2022, he was voted runner up for Air Cargo Journalist by the Seahorse Freight Association. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]