On May 2nd 2018 an explosion and following fire caused a combined $8m of damage at the Meridian Magnesium Products of America plant in Eaton Rapids, Michigan. Meridian Magnesium Products of America produce components for one of the most profitable cars manufactured in the USA by the Ford Motor Company, the Ford F-150. In 2017, Ford built 1,052,658 F-Series trucks, which averages between 3,000 and 4,000 rolling off the production line each day. With an average sale price of $46,500, the F-Series truck generated more than $40 billion in revenue for Ford. The immediate issue facing Ford in the aftermath is that Meridian Magnesium Products of America is a very specialised die-casting foundry of magnesium motor industry components. So, what can Ford do? With only 84 days of supply left available to sell, Ford had to act fast and put a plan in place to re-start production of the F-150.
The Recovery Plan
Over the next few days, Ford recovered and transported 87,000 lb / 39.4 tonne of die tools from the Eaton Rapids site to Rickenbacker International Airport (LCK/KLCK), Ohio. The plan was to ship this huge tooling piece to Nottingham in the United Kingdom where another specialist die-casting foundry of magnesium motor industry components is based with the capacity to spare. To transport this mammoth tool to the UK, Ford enlisted the expertise of Antonov Airlines and the Antonov An-124 Ruslan.
The Antonov An-124 Ruslan, built in Russia and Ukraine, made its maiden flight in 1982 and was designed to provide long-range heavy lift support to the Military Transport Aviation arm of the Soviet Air Forces. The An-124 has both a forward nose loading and rear tail loading ramp allowing the best access for loading and unloading outsize cargo. This combined with a maximum payload of 330,000 lb / 149.6 tonne makes the AN-124 a perfect solution for specialised cargo missions around the globe.
On May 11th 2018, UR-82008 of Antonov Airlines left Rickenbacker International Airport as flight ADB2465 at 0130 hours with a destination of Doncaster Sheffield Airport (DSA/EGCN). DSA is situated only 48 miles north of Nottingham, around an hours drive with direct access to the M18 and M1 motorways. The flight landed in the UK at 1355 local time and was promptly unloaded for the die tools to make their way to the Nottingham plant. Such was the tight time frame for this operation Ford had only got the import license for the die a mere two hours before the plane touched down. With the die tools in place, production was given the green light to manufacture parts for Ford. This then opened up a new logistical challenge, getting the fresh parts shipped back to the United States to enable F-150 trucks to roll off the production line.
Doncaster to Columbus AirBridge
Considering the volume of parts required back in the United States to keep the final assembly line rolling there was a clear need to charter a flight to ship the parts back to Columbus, Ohio. The carrier chosen was Kalitta Air, a cargo operator with headquarters in Ypsilanti Township, Michigan. Kalitta currently has a fleet of 22 Boeing 747-400 Freighters and 8 Boeing 767-300(ER) freighters, operating international scheduled and ad-hoc cargo charter services. The current fleet details for Kalitta Air can be found below:
On May 19th 2018 the first batch of parts was ready to be shipped back to the United States, and by 1411 local time flight K49163 arrived into Doncaster Sheffield Airport operated by Kalitta Air from Ramstein (RMS/ETAR), Germany. This would begin what has been so far a daily flight connecting Doncaster Sheffield Airport with Rickenbacker International Airport transporting the parts to the final assembly line of the Ford F-150.
This contract is quite a coup for Doncaster Sheffield Airport and their cargo team, considering the proximity of Nottingham to East Midlands Airport (EMA/EGNX). This is a testament to the hard work put in by the airport leadership team and the dedicated cargo team who have really diversified the offerings at DSA for cargo carriers.
Overall Ford should see minimal disruption to the manufacturing process of the F-150 due to the robust plan put into place. But none of this plan could work without the airlines, aircraft and airports involved across two continents and 3,786mi apart. Until repairs are made to the Meridian Magnesium Products of America plant in Eaton Rapids, Michigan the Kalitta flights are destined to continue linking the city of Doncaster and Columbus.