The need for speed: flying over 100 tons of french wine to New York in under a week

When there’s no time to lose, air freight is the fastest mode of cargo transport possible. This was our salvation when our French office was handed an extremely urgent delivery brief by a major client. The mission? Transport over 100 tons of wine and spirits from Le Havre and Cognac (France) to New York in one single week. That’s a whopping 5,758 km, or 3,578 air miles. Why the hurry? To beat an imminent European wine tax raise, a parting gift from President Trump before he left office. 


The brief landed on our desk on Monday 4th January, and the new taxation was due to come into effect on January 12th. A daunting deadline indeed, but we jumped into action right away. Within hours, our team in France set the wheels of the ambitious project quickly in motion.

Mission objectives

The operation needed a multifaceted approach, and precision timing. In only one week, we had to: 

  • Use trucks to haul 160 tons of temperature sensitive wines and spirits 850km from our client’s warehouse in Cognac, France to the international cargo departure airport in Liège, Belgium.  

  • Have all 160 tons of cargo ready and waiting for loading onto planes by the weekend of the 9th/10th January 

  • Prepare two round trips on a special chartered Airbus A340-300 plane between Liège LGG and New York JFK airport.  

  • Load a full Airbus to depart on Saturday, which needed to be unloaded in destination NYC without delay and be ready to fly back empty on Saturday night. This same plane had to be reloaded immediately upon landing in Liege, ready to depart at 09h00 on Sunday morning. 

  • Organise sufficient space on four regular United Airlines flights to cater for the remaining volume of goods which didn’t fit on the two full cargo flights.  

  • Fly cargo safely 23,000km in total. 

Mission accomplished

Thanks to our dedicated teams on both sides of the Atlantic, we’re happy to claim mission accomplished, even under immense time pressure. A big thanks to our French team for managing all operations despite numerous challenges, and our team in the US for delivery and customs clearance in New York. Without air freight, such a project would have been an impossibility. 

Air freight is currently booming. This is in part fuelled by the difficulties faced by ocean freight, the ongoing container shortage crisis playing a major role. Choosing to transport goods on cargo planes instead of using maritime routes is a prudent choice in 2021.

Hillebrand has moved over 600 tons of cargo by plane in January alone, and has many years of expertise in moving even large quantities of goods at (very!) short notice. This month’s case study is just one shining example out of hopefully many more to come. 

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