Luxembourg-based all-cargo carrier Cargolux has had a long and illustrious journey. At a time when cargo airlines are struggling to keep themselves afloat, here’s an airline that has sustained 50 long years in this industry. Since its inception, Cargolux has lived up to its now famous slogan ‘You name it, we fly it’ – the embodiment of the Cargolux spirit.

Half a century ago, Luxembourg’s national carrier Luxair, Iceland's national carrier Loftleiðir, the Swedish shipping company Salén and some private investors, founded Cargolux, which has now become one of the world’s leading all-cargo carriers.

Starting out with a single Canadair CL-44 freighter and a handful of enthusiastic employees, Cargolux’s maiden flight, on 10 May 1970, saw it travel from Stockholm, ARN, to New York, JFK, to pick up iceberg lettuces and strawberries.

Fifty years on, the airline flies to 75 destinations worldwide, has a fleet of 30 747-400/8 aircraft and employs over 2,000 people globally. With the early creation of the company’s slogan, ‘You name it, we fly it!’, the record was set straight: it did not matter whether the shipment consisted of lettuce and strawberries, heavy crates of car engines, and cattle, the airline was determined to deliver the best possible service in order to raise the industry standards in flexibility and quality of transport. Among the more unusual cargo, it has carried are two beluga whales, racing horses and Ferraris.

“It is a remarkable achievement for an all-cargo operator to celebrate 50 years in existence and I think I speak on behalf of the whole company when I say we are proud of how far our airline has come. We have weathered many storms over the years and this celebration shows the world how committed and dedicated our employees are,” Cargolux president and CEO Richard Forson said in a statement.

To mark the anniversary year, the operator decorated one of its 747-8 freighters with a special livery bearing the jubilee design with the new name ‘Spirit of Cargolux’. The rest of the fleet also bears the commemorative emblem.

Here’s a timeline of the major milestones in the all-cargo carrier Cargolux’s journey over the years:

Cargolux milestones
Cargolux Airlines International was founded by Luxair, Loftleiðir Icelandic, the Salén Shipping Group. With just one crew and four office staff in Luxembourg City, the airline started operations in May 1970 with a single Canadair CL-44, swingtail freighter aircraft. The three partners agreed during the very early stages of the company that each party would contribute to the different phases in the operation. Loftleiðir was responsible for operational and technical matters, Salén for sales, and Luxair for finance and administration.

1972 Cargolux operated 5 Canadair CL-44 ‘swingtail’ and moved its headquarters to the airport.

1973 In October 1973, Cargolux took delivery of a DC-8-61CF freighter, TF-BCV. The first DC-8 flight went from Luxembourg to Hong Kong loaded with 34 tons of machinery.

1974 To cater for Cargolux’s growing fleet, the maintenance division of Loftleiðir Icelandic that takes care of the fleet was integrated into Cargolux and moved from New York to Luxembourg. The staff increased from 80 to 180 overnight. Cargolux signed a contract for the construction of a new hangar and head office complex.

1975 Cargolux signed a contract for the construction of a new hangar and head office complex at Luxembourg Airport, which was inaugurated on April 28, 1975.

1977 In December 1977, Cargolux took a giant leap forward and decided to purchase a jumbo jet; a Boeing 747-200 freighter.

1978 The last Canadair CL-44 was phased out to make way for an all-jet fleet.

1979 After contemplating several options, including a DC10 freighter, Cargolux settled on the 747, a bold decision considering the huge increase in capacity this aircraft represented compared to either the CL-44 or the DC-8. On 30 January 1979, Cargolux took delivery of its first B747 freighter, LX-DCV, named City of Luxembourg, firmly underlining its commitment to become a major all-cargo airline.

1980s The beginning of the decade is a challenging period for Cargolux which is driven to the brink of bankruptcy by high fuel prices and interest rates. The company diversified its activities and entered the subleasing business in addition to its core competency - air freight. It also briefly engaged in passenger business with the launch of Lionair, a joint venture with Luxair that operated passenger flights on the upper deck while continuing to carry freight on the main deck and in the belly holds.

1982 In order to prepare for the future and embrace the emerging digital era, Cargolux designed a new automated cargo system, CHAMP (Cargo handling And Management Planning), which extended over the entire cargo business chain in all commercial, operational, and financial aspects.

1985 Slowly but surely, the economy recovered, and Cargolux was able to strengthen its commercial activities and hire back most of the employees that had been laid off. To cater for the expanding business, Cargolux acquired 3 747-200F in 1986.

1987 Lufthansa acquired a 24.5 percent stake in Cargolux’s capital while Luxair increased their shares by 10 percent to 24.53 percent. With this new momentum, 3 jumbo freighters spanning an expanding global network, and a steadily growing workforce, Cargolux was ready for a new decade of service excellence.

1993 The airline’s first 747-400 was delivered in November, making Cargolux the first to fly this aircraft type.

1995 Cargolux celebrated its 25th anniversary.

1996 The company’s rapid growth in the 90s was supported by the inauguration, in 1996, of Luxair Cargo's brand-new Cargo Center at its headquarters in Luxembourg. Cargolux was increasingly recognized in the industry as a provider of niche services and the building was designed to cater for all types and forms of freight.

2000 Cargolux entered the new millennium as an all 747-400 operator with a fleet of 10 freighters and plans to further expand business in the wake of the golden 90s.

2005 Cargolux became the launch customer for a new 747 type with an initial order for 10 aircraft. The company later ordered five more 747-8Fs.

2007 Cargolux signed the UN Global Compact as an official commitment to mitigating the effect of its operation on the environment and the communities it operates into.

2009 Cargolux’s maintenance and engineering division moved into a new hangar offering modern facilities and space for two 747/A380-sized aircraft. Cargolux entered into a strategic partnership in Italy to create Cargolux Italia for intercontinental all-cargo services from Milan’s Malpensa airport.

2011 Cargolux took delivery of its first 747-8F, LX-VCB, on October 12, 2011.

2013 Cargolux’s ground handling partner in Luxembourg, Luxair Cargo, launched the construction of a dedicated Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Center that was inaugurated in 2013.In the same year, the airline reached yet another impressive milestone as it took delivery of LX-VCA, its 7th 747-8, and the 25th new aircraft Cargolux received from Boeing.

2014 HNCA became a new shareholder and established a dual hub strategy. Luxembourg and Zhengzhou became the airline’s main hubs in support of the Air Silk Road initiative.

2016 Another crucial decision was made as the Board of Directors approve the construction of a brand new headquarter building next to the company’s Maintenance Center at its home base in Luxembourg. After several years of adjustments in top management, this was also the year that Richard Forson is appointed President and CEO of the company.

2020 Cargolux operates a fleet of 30 747-400/8 aircraft and employs over 2,000 people worldwide, the bulk being based in Luxembourg.

This feature was originally published in March - April 2020 issue of Logistics Update Africa.

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