Now Arriving: Fresh Fish to Pittsburgh

Icelandair bringing new global cargo to region

By Evan Dougherty

Published May 24, 2024

Read Time: 4 mins


Who says fish can’t fly? It may sound unbelievable, but Icelandair is making that a reality at Pittsburgh International Airport.

The airline, which launched its new Pittsburgh-Reykjavík route this month, provides travelers another seamless option to reach Iceland and the rest of Europe. But the nonstop route is also expected to bring more international cargo to and from the region.

Fish is expected to be the most significant freight market on the Pittsburgh-Reykjavík route, said Jorge Dorta, Icelandair’s Cargo Operations Manager for the U.S.

“In Pittsburgh, our biggest market will be the fish. That is our main product that we have in Iceland,” he said. “Considering the market share we have in cities close to Pittsburgh like New York-JFK, Chicago and Boston, I envision that [Pittsburgh] is going to be a very good opportunity for us to fill the plane with fish.”

Dorta said Icelandair expects to primarily import salmon and catfish to Pittsburgh, although the route will also include a mix of other fish types.

Their final destination? Supermarkets, restaurants and ultimately, your dinner plate.

“Most likely, that fish is going be consumed here in Pittsburgh,” said Dorta.

A ‘cargo-focused’ airline

Iceland is one of the world’s largest fish exporters. In 2022, the country was the seventh-largest exporter of fish fillets, with an estimated value of 1.19 billion U.S. dollars, according to The Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC). In total, around 707,000 tons of maritime products were exported from Iceland in 2022 worth over 2.5 billion U.S. dollars, per data from Statistics Iceland.

The OEC reports that the U.S. is Iceland’s fastest-growing fish fillet export market with an estimated total value of over $64 million in 2022, a 36 percent increase from 2021.

That’s where Icelandair comes in. “[Iceland] is an island like Hawaii – they have to import a lot. Whether it’s consumer goods or other things that people need that aren’t locally produced there, they’re going to ship it in or fly it in,” said Roy Linkner, manager of Cargo Gravity LLC with over 40 years of aviation experience. “On the export side, it’s natural resources that they have, like fish and seafood.”

Icelandair’s Reykjavík hub is a connecting point for cargo transiting between North America, Iceland and Europe. Icelandair also provides continued expedited freight transportation to more distant markets, including Asia, via its extensive global partnerships.

Icelandair operates a fleet of Boeing 737 MAX, 757 and 767 passenger aircraft that can carry lower-deck freight on transatlantic flights. It also flies Bombardier Q200 and Q400 turboprops on shorter flights within Iceland and other nearby destinations.

The carrier also flies a dedicated freighter fleet of 767-300Fs that can carry outsized or specialized cargo over longer distances.

On the Pittsburgh-Reykjavík route, Icelandair’s 737 MAX 8 can carry up to 5 tons of loose-loaded freight in the aircraft’s forward and aft lower decks underneath the passenger cabin.

Rapid transportation

Fresh fish is a highly perishable product. Transporting it from one point to another, as quickly as possible, is crucial.

“Air freight is time-sensitive. People are paying 10-20 times for surface transportation,” said Linkner. “A lot of that speed is in the air, but it doesn’t do any good in the air if it’s bogged down on the ground.”

A fish journey, from the fishing boat to the dinner table, can be as quick as 24 hours via Icelandair, said Dorta. “What we try to do is to ship the fish to the closest place where it is going.”

PIT’s geography and surrounding highway infrastructure allow inbound cargo to be trucked quickly to major destinations on the East Coast, in the Midwest and Canada. Its airfield also avoids the congestion present at other major gateways and has around-the-clock U.S. customs processing available.

More air cargo opportunities

Icelandair’s Pittsburgh-Reykjavík route is expected to generate new air freight opportunities for businesses in the region.

Icelandair is also boosting existing cargo capacity between Pittsburgh and Europe as British Airways, which operates nonstop flights to London on its Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, is seeing a surge in air freight demand after increasing service to six times a week. British Airways’ Pittsburgh-London route serves regional shipments bound to and from Europe, Africa, the Middle East and India.

Linkner sees Icelandair and its extensive European network, consisting of nearly 30 destinations, as a great complement to British Airways’ global cargo services in Pittsburgh.

“That’s a heck of reach,” he said. “Pittsburgh can be served between the two of them. It offers a good cross-section of network destinations or origins for both import and export.”

Meanwhile, construction progress continues on PIT’s new 77,000-square-foot Cargo 4 facility, scheduled to open later this year, which will enhance the airport’s international cargo capabilities.

“The engagement with the authorities and cargo community isn’t like what we’ve got in many other cities,” said Dorta. “A small airline like us, we are not like a Lufthansa or [British Airways] or other bigger airlines. But the attention that we are getting from the authorities, the port, customs and everybody is very encouraging.

“I think the future is going to be great here in Pittsburgh.”

Go to Top