This was quickly supplemented by ad-hoc charter work, with special emphasis on ‚awkward loads’ such as aircraft engines and heavy machinery for the developing North Sea oil fields.
1976 saw the arrival of the first of the Merchantman aircraft. This heralded an introduction to new markets such as fresh fruit flights through the Gulf and the Middle East and overnight newspaper flights. At the beginning of the 1980’s the overnight express parcels business was in it’s infancy within Europe and Air Bridge was ideally placed to take advantage. TNT, FedEx, DHL and UPS were all nightly customers.
The company was subsequently acquired by the Hunting Group, and the fleet was enhanced further with the introduction of a fleet of Boeing 727 and Lockheed Electra aircraft (the majority of which were placed on the Irish register). It was in 1992 that the Hunting Group decided to re-brand all of its subsidiaries, Air Bridge changed overnight to Hunting Cargo Airlines, with a bold new corporate image. All of the airline’s operations were transferred to Ireland in 1997, a year that saw the introduction of the first Airbus A300-B4 to the fleet.
In 1997 the Hunting Group decided to sell off all it’s aviation related companies. In June 1998 it was announced that the airline had been sold to a consortium consisting of Compagnie Maritime Belge NV from Belgium and Safair (Pty) Ltd from South Africa (part of the Imperial Group). This prompted a change of name to Air Contractors (ACL). CMB have remained as shareholders until today. Following the restructuring of the services with DHL and the end of the operation of the Boeing 727s ACL acquired an interest in BAC Group Limited. Through this interest it has expanded it’s turbo-prop operations and embarked upon a major upgrade of the fleet with the modern and fuel efficient ATR family.
In 2007, Imperial disposed of all its aviation-related businesses which were acquired by CMB and 3P Airfreighters. At the same time an interest was acquired in Europe Airpost and its fleet of Boeing 737 Classic aircraft operating a combination of postal and passenger activities. This prompted the decision to rename the holding company ASL Aviation Group to co-ordinate the different operating companies under a new identity. Acquisition of the Safair Group was finalised in late 2010, which includes the leasing and airline operations, based in South Africa. In 2013, Safair introduced a BBEE (Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment) program, allowing ASL to retain a minority shareholding in the South African company.