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Atlas Finds Its Niche in Air Cargo Market With Just-in-Time Delivery : Transportation: Company brings in the goods right before they're needed.

October 10, 1994|From Associated Press

GOLDEN, Colo. — Huge Boeing 747 cargo jets serving as flying warehouses are playing a key role for a clothing manufacturer aptly named Just in Time--speeding the latest fashions from Asian factories to U.S. retailers to sell the next day.

The long-range jets operated by Atlas Air Inc. typically start loading at 6 a.m. Sunday in Hong Kong. Dresses, suits and other dry goods on hangers arrive at the planes in 10-foot high cardboard boxes. Each already has the name of the store, bar codes and price tags.

With a refueling stop at a former Soviet military base, the big jets reach New York in time for the clothes to be on the floor at Bloomingdale's on Monday.

Atlas has found its niche in the air cargo market with "just-in-time" delivery, the system used by auto makers and other companies who want goods right before they're needed, rather than weeks or months in advance.

Michael A. Chowdry, chairman and chief executive of Atlas, says his fleet of six 747s means "no warehousing, no theft, no insurance claims," for manufacturers and retailers to deal with.

"We are flying warehouses," he said.

For retailers faced with short life spans for some of their merchandise--such as the latest, most trendy clothes--just-in-time delivery via companies like Atlas means the stores are certain to get the goods they need to meet customer demand.

"The store knows what the best-sellers are. Maybe a blue tie is selling better than a red one. They can send the information direct to the factory and increase orders for the most popular fashions," Chowdry said.

Clothing from Asia isn't the only cargo Chowdry's 747-200s haul. They fly to and from Taipei, Bangkok, Dubai, Luxembourg, Amsterdam, New Delhi, Singapore and Sao Paulo.

Shipment of auto parts from the Far East to Europe and the United States has also helped the cargo business. And "TVs, VCRs and computers are all subject to rapid changes," Chowdry said. "They, too, are time-sensitive or fashion-oriented and in need of air shipment."

Outbound cargo from the U.S. includes fresh seafood, machine tools, beef, circuit boards, helicopters, aircraft engines and wings and even race cars.

Chowdry says he has an edge over most competitors who tend to use the 747-100. The 200 model, he points out, carries 30,000 pounds more cargo and has longer range. Atlas' jets can take off with 117 tons of cargo.

The planes are busy. By having the freight ready to load through the 10-foot 2-inch front cargo door, in most cases the 747s do a 55-minute turnaround.

Chowdry has the top deck of the 747 outfitted with three bunk beds and four seats to take care of a relief crew on long flights. He hires only pilots with thousands of hours in the 747. Atlas planes average 14.6 hours a day in the air.

"With a plane that gulps 4,000 gallons of fuel an hour, it is important to have proficient pilots who know jet streams and other means of maximizing fuel economy," Chowdry said.

Ironically, some of the cargo moves very slowly before reaching the big jets. "We are taking containers that arrive in Hong Kong on barges from throughout Asia and others that are barged from the Indian subcontinent to Dubai," Chowdry says.

Chowdry, who lives in Colorado although most of his company's U.S. operations are in New York, was born in Lahore in what is now Pakistan. He was taken to England while a youth and later came to the United States and attended the University of Minnesota.

He was hired as a consultant to help reorganize now-defunct Frontier Airlines. In 1985, he started Aeronautics Leasing Inc., which he operates today as an affiliate of Atlas Air. He leases aircraft to airlines around the world, including Air France, American, British, China, Continental and Northwest Airlines.

Atlas was started in 1992. Chowdry predicts the company will have $150 million in revenue this year.

He plans to expand his company to include 10 of the 747-200s by next year.

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