Air Cargo Boom in Supply Chain Crunch Has Car Tires Flying First Class

The global air cargo sector is flying planes at almost 90% of capacity as record amounts of goods crisscross the globe, bound for free-spending consumers and parts-hungry manufacturers.

Packed planes pose a challenge for shippers, airlines and airports entering the traditional peak U.S. season for moving goods, when demand increases for consumer electronics, household items and clothing ahead of the holiday-shopping spree.

Pinch points include overflowing airport cargo warehouses, spilling goods into off-site facilities and exacerbating the shortage of staff to sort, load and unload jets. Airlines have responded by expanding cargo flights beyond the biggest gateways to such cities as Columbus, Ohio, and Tampa, Fla., to avoid congestion. Sometimes the cabins of repurposed passenger planes are used for cargo.

“We are at the limit,” said Bernhard Kindelbacher, who heads cargo operations in the U.S. and Canada for Deutsche Lufthansa AG , one of the world’s largest airfreight carriers.

Charles Goodwin, operations director at the Columbus Regional Airport Authority, said car tires packed between the seats of repurposed passenger jets are among the cargo now being flown that once traveled by sea.