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   Vol. 17 No. 45
Friday July 27, 2018

Richard Malkin: In His Own Write
Richard Malkin

One of the most important pioneering journalists in air cargo history, Richard Malkin is the only air cargo reporter who covered the Berlin Airlift; with that one act, he practically invented air cargo journalism.
  Richard died in July 2017 at the age of 104.
  Richard Malkin was part of our print publication from 1990 until 1994. He returned to FlyingTypers at age 100 and wrote continuously until mid-2016, supplying a flurry of final of interviews, comments, and feature stories.
   It is worth mentioning that Richard left us with a living legacy of yet-to-be-published stories created in his final years. They cover his exploits during an amazing 65+ years covering the air cargo business.
  This is a first in the series on air cargo from the beginnings to the Jet Age.

The Founding Forties
Richard Malkin at The Reichstag Berlin, 1948.

ir cargo journalism was a career that I neither planned nor anticipated. In fact, it did not exist as a specific profession before I gave up my job as a reporter for a daily newspaper to assume the editorship of what billed itself as the world’s first dedicated air cargo periodical. This occurred a couple of years before the dawn of the so-called Air Cargo Age in domestic and international commerce at the end of World War II.
      The plain truth is that my passage from newspaper to magazine activity was purely an economic decision: I harbored no interest in aviation or transportation. Privately, I intended to hold on to the job for several years, get onto firmer economic ground, then shift to a more desirable editorial environment.
      As it turned out, I lasted 66 years writing about all manner of property moved by air.
      Without realizing it, I had been seized and held captive in the powerful grip of diverse dynamic forces in motion, not least the spectacle of the horde of Air Transport Command and Naval Air Transport service veterans, many of them with overblown visions of their roles in this new business called air cargo—a reminder, as a wise man once pointed out, an exaggeration is a truth that has lost its way. But more about the Air Force hopefuls later in this article.
      At the time of the new industry’s beginning—and even before then—the absolute definition of air cargo embraced all forms of property. Not only did it cover express and freight, but mail and baggage as well.  
      Dealing with the monthly traffic statistics received from the airlines, savvy editors soon learned to verify the actual tonnage of shipments carried. Adding to the statistical confusion, foreign operators tended to report the results in kilos in contrast to pounds or tons reported by the U.S. airlines. A Civil Aeronautics Board held tight rein on a new industry it was learning to understand.
National Air Transport      Despite, as previously indicated, the birth of the Air Cargo Age at the end of hostilities in 1945, scheduled air shipping in the U.S. had been in existence since 1927 when a single-engine aircraft of National Air Transport flew a load of small packages and boxes from New Brunswick, New Jersey to Chicago. This was the origin of REA Air Express. A creature of Railway Express Agency (owned by 80 railroads which enjoyed a lucrative contract with the nation’s scheduled airlines until international competitive reverses decades later spelled the agency’s end. An ambitious newcomer with a service strategy all its own, popped into existence.
      Nor was air freight—bulk consignments—totally absent in the pre-Air Cargo Age years. Pan Am flew occasional planeloads of 24-hour baby chicks to Latin American destinations, and there were notable freight movements by TACA and Avianca, and, yes, the Canadian bush Railway Expressflyers, but these were too few to signal an explosion of freight revenue for the airlines.
      From a running start in the second half of the 1940s, significant examples registered what the new industry would look like in the future. Hauled in aircraft that were pale shadows of today’s giant jets, the world’s important airlines gave evidence of starting hard- freight operations. Consider, for example, a zoo-bound planeload of assorted animals, including a baby elephant. Or an entire household flown thousands of miles to an overseas inland location. Or the substitution of the speed of air cargo for refrigerated ground or sea transport of perishable commodities. To borrow a biblical expression, the fledgling industry went annually from strength to strength.
      Like the history of the surface transportation companies, the appearance of the middleman inspired little affection in airline ranks. The IATA-approved commission-earning cargo agent preceded by years the cargo-consolidating air freight forwarder.
      The rise of the cargo agents was swift and dramatic. They descended in large numbers on export communities on both coasts and the Midwest. Typical of the swarm of newly IATA-authorized cargo agents was the avid chap armed with a desk, a phone and a stack of air waybills. Facing traditional shippers asked to pay rates sharply higher than they were accustomed to pay, the cargo agents turned patient and persistent educators, setting forth the inherent economic advantages produced by the speed of air transport. It was no easy sell, and often—too often—price was king, even under demonstrated proof that air freight’s bottom line should be preferable. Those were the days when physical distribution executives were as rare as kiwis in Yellowstone Park.
      As the volume of agent-derived traffic increased at a steady pace, a few international air carriers questioned internally whether it was smart to become dependent on the agent for what may turn out to be an interesting potential.
Pan Am      A leak at Pan Am disclosed that a key executive, concerned that the cargo agents might achieve control of the airline’s growing freight business had proposed to open direct competition against them if their input reached a threshold of 20% of Pan Am freight revenue. The leaked news produced an instant emergency meeting of agents in a Manhattan restaurant, and after emotional debate voted to make Pan Am the carrier of last resort. Pan Am reacted quickly. At a hastily arranged meeting with an agents committee, it pooh-poohed the veracity of the leak and offered calming words of support. Out of that session came a period of mutually guarded accord.
Summer Fun      Forwarder consolidations of high-rated small shipments incited no yelps of glee from the airlines. They were largely regarded by the carriers as competitors. The airlines’ darling of the latter Forties was Emery Air Freight whose pricing in its startup year—it refrained from competing with domestic airline rates unlike the other intermediaries—it sold and delivered top-quality service before the iron realities of the marketplace compelled it to offer competitive rates.
      As an air cargo innocent, virgin territory each workday was an experience in discovery, often familiar but in a totally different context. It was both fascinating and challenging. The determined forces of a pulsing creative bent, of steady focus of expectation in a still blurry tomorrow.
      Not very long after the return of peace, I found myself tramping California’s strawberry and lettuce fields, and covering stretches of Florida and Texas flower growers. I watched the careful offloading of Jamaica lilies for the Easter market. A bit later I flew to the Netherlands for an eye-opening visit at the fabulous flower auction in Aalsmeer. It did not take genius thinking to understand why these perishable products were among the first natural candidates to take to the air. This led to my discovery that varieties of fish had donned wings. Interesting to note is that the Air Cargo Age was only three years old when Lockheed engineers participated in tests of the effects of altitude and changes of pressures on 34 different types of fruits and vegetables.
      I can conceive of no better descriptive word than “wonderland” for those pristine years. Close witness to extraordinary feats of freight flying, I was reminded that all fine things descend from originality; for the first time restaurants in interior cities received fresh fish from Eastern waters . . . A ship’s propeller weighing 6 1/2 tons, too long for normal loading, slung on specially constructed beams beneath the fuselage; an overseas tramp operator picks up and delivers random shipments to a series of airports on a circuitous route.
      Yes, all the above—and more!—when commercial air cargo was still in diapers.
C-47      In a published work some years ago I noted an incident involving an ATC veteran who paid a visit to my office about a year after the war. In a broad display of unsophisticated candor he charmingly informed me that he had acquired a war-surplus C-47 cargoplane, and could I tell him how to go about getting into the airline business.
      I mention this because he was typical of scores of ex-service flyers and handlers whose postwar ambitions pointed in the same direction. The immediate postwar era showed explosive growth of what now were often called “GI airlines”—all nonscheduled airlines, many of these new air carrier companies built on the strength of a single war-surplus transport. Rise and fall—it took a few short years, victims of the tough realities in marketing, pricing and, of course, competition.
      But a few hardier ones survived, a small number longer than the rest. Among these escapees from nonscheduled to become scheduled carriers. This small group included such familiar brands as Flying Tiger, Slick, Seaboard, etc, now fading memories.

Seaboard Horses

Slick Airways

In spite of their record during the first few years, they are generally credited for a significant contribution to awareness of the plane as a true component of modern distribution.
      Having passed through the entire life of the air cargo industry to date, I found myself effortlessly settling on the earliest years—the years when imaginations and hopes ran riot—as, for me, a spell of utter romance. (What was inevitably to follow was a parabola of mammoth jetfreighters, automated cargo handling, containerization, brilliant applications of modern technology, fierce competition on a global scale.)
      Passenger-oriented from the very start, the scheduled airlines’ development of revenue from the carriage of cargo above REA’s contributions was at low ebb. There was a certain charismatic glow bathing sales people who often rubbed elbows with celebrity passengers. A man assigned to cargo was likely said to have been exiled to Siberia. (A former top executive at Lufthansa admitted to me that in his youth at the German airline, cargo was referred to as a fifth wheel.)
American Cargo      Gradually, but with increasing frequency, bulk shipments moved into the air. American Airlines anticipated what lay ahead and was the first to offer scheduled all-cargo service. Its inaugural freighter flight flew from New York to Burbank, including several intermediate stops.
      As sure as the daily rise of the sun, there came the crop of unabashed prognosticators to spread the good word. There was a happy aura of certainty that surrounded their expressions. One by one, airline and forwarder executives donned the seer’s mantle and seriously issued predictions that airline cargo revenue would pull abreast passenger revenue in—depending on the predictor’s gift of prophecy—10 to 15 years. Ralph S. Damon, then president of TWA, proved to be more conservative! He maintained that it would take about 25 years. The ensuing decades proved that Pliny the Elder had it right: the only certainty is that nothing is certain.
      This article of memory-wresting details is essentially devoted to the postwar Forties with one or two brief forays beyond. It is meant to focus on elements—at least some basic ones—that formed the arc that was dubbed the Air Cargo Age.
      On a path that was to lead to an ultimate global aerial network fat with the goods of man, there were trial and error, success and disappointments, visionaries and naysayers. All things considered, I am inclined to say that the first few years of my six-and-a-half decade career in air cargo were crammed with the stuff of pure romance.
      The industry’s green years had, as shown, its crop of dreamers and those comfortably wrapped in tradition. The dreamers stretched the bounds of possibility. Along with their dreams of global airfreighter fleets were predictions of complementary services by airships, helifreighters, and parachuted deliveries. Is dreaming an exercise in futility? There is an old French suggestion—Tous songes sont mensonges (all dreams are lies).
      Don’t you believe it.
Richard Malkin

Publisher-Geoffrey Arend • Managing Editor-Flossie Arend •
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