What happened to US cargo carrier Southern Air?

The cargo sector of the commercial aviation industry is one that has flourished even amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. When it comes to such operations in the United States, FedEx and UPS are among the dominating forces. However, the country is also home to several smaller cargo carriers that help keep it moving. One of them was Southern Air.

Dating back to the 1940s

Southern Air’s roots lie in another US-based cargo carrier with a slightly longer name. Southern Air Transport (SAT) began in 1947, initially operating as a Miami-based charter airline that carried cargo to the Bahamas. In 1960, it was a three-plane business that suffered from large debts. However, he was offered an unlikely lifeline. This was done in the form of an acquisition by the United States Central Intelligence Agency.

Otherwise known as the CIA, this government agency owned Southern Air Transport until 1973. During this time, the carrier grew considerably, before returning to private ownership. In the mid-1980s he was caught transporting weapons to Iran and Central America.

Entering the 1990s, 1994 saw the company move its headquarters from Miami to Columbus, Ohio. Despite this, it filed for bankruptcy in 1998, following a failed merger with other carriers. However, a year later, a newly formed carrier named Southern Air picked up the pieces when it acquired the assets of SAT under the management of James Neff.



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An all-Boeing fleet

The new Southern Air began operations later that year, in November 1999. Its predecessor had operated a diverse fleet, consisting of aircraft from manufacturers such as Boeing, Curtiss, Douglas and Lockheed. However, Southern Air has taken a more one-size-fits-all approach to its fleet. This led him to choose to operate only Boeing aircraft.

According to data from ch-aviation.com and ATDB.aero, the Boeing designs freighter versions operated by Southern Air were aircraft from the 737, 747 and 777 families. The most numerous of these freighters was the 747-200, which its predecessor had also flown. Southern aircraft wore various liveries, as they operated on behalf of other companies.


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Atlas Air bought Southern Air in April 2016. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | single flight

Merged with Atlas Air

Companies that Southern Air planes have flown for over the years include Amazon Air, Thai Cargo and even logistics giant DHL. The airline’s work with the latter took place in 2011. It was then that it signed a contract to improve DHL’s overnight operations in hubs such as Anchorage, Bahrain, Cincinnati and Hong Kong, using its Boeing 777s.

Southern Air’s history has sometimes been slightly turbulent. Despite Cargo 360 merging into its operations in 2007, the carrier filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection five years later. It exited in early 2013. Atlas Air purchased the airline in April 2016, which ultimately led to Southern Air merging into Atlas operations. This was completed in November 2021, ending SAT/Southern Air’s interesting and varied history.

What are your memories of Southern Air? Have you ever seen any of the carrier’s planes in action? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!


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