Is AF/KL Cargo Deciding on Total Freighter Fleet Withdrawal?

News published by the Bloomberg news agency today (Friday) reveals that individual sources within AF/KL were quoted as saying that the French/Dutch carrier will take the decision by September of this year as to whether they will do away totally with the rest of their freighter fleet.

"We retire four aircraft next year but do not intend stepping out of freighter operations," said cargo speaker Jean Claude Raynaud  /  source: Martinair
"We retire four aircraft next year but do not intend stepping out of freighter operations," said cargo speaker Jean Claude Raynaud / source: Martinair

This decision apparently rests in a further review of their cargo business which the carrier’s board will initiate in a meeting this month.
It would not really come as surprise to the market if the decision were taken to do away with the remaining aircraft. The once self-declared world market leader in cargo carrier has been fighting an uphill battle for the past years in an effort to arrive back into black figures. Union and staff resistance as well as very poor yields and overall net results, have left the cargo division in a sorry state up to now.

In a statement by the carrier in February of this year it was said that the turnaround plan introduced earlier was starting to take hold. If the above were to be true, then it would certainly seem that AF/KL/MP cargo is still bleeding, although latest figures indicate some financial improvements.

The majority of the present freighter fleet is made up of Martinair aircraft as Air France only operates four freighters after having earlier got rid of two aircraft and has already slated a further two for retirement. This would leave the French carrier with just two B777F’s.
Martinair still operates five B747-400F’s and six MD-11F’s.

It should be noted however that a decision had already been taken by the board to reduce the total freighter fleet to ten aircraft by the end of 2015.
Martinair would then turn out to be the loser if all freighters were to be laid off. This would have a disastrous effect on MP’s operation and staffing for the future unless the once independent carrier which is now 100% KL owned, were allowed or be in a position to return to its own niche operation.
Something, which in today’s tight market, would probably not be possible.

When questioned on this by CargoForwarder Global, Jean Claude Raynaud spokesman for AF/KL/MP Cargo stated the following:
“Stepping out of freighter services is not part of our project in cargo and the story has no substance.”
“Bloomberg’s announcement is not consistent with our corporate strategy.”
“In fact, we are already reducing our freighter fleet and we have officially announced this in fall of last year. According to fleet plans we intend to take four additional aircraft out of service by summer of 2015, bringing the total down to ten.”

This statement ties in with the information above. But, why then would apparent reliable internal sources within their carrier come out at this time with such a statement?

Being Europe’s by self-definition largest airline group does not necessarily ensure financial stability. The AF/KL group showed a net loss of €1.83bn in 2013 and had previously stated that the cargo division was looking at a break even scenario by end 2015 and start returning to black figures by 2016.
With, or without freighters?
Maybe it would be wise decision for the carrier to concentrate on its belly capacity in the future.
John Mc Donagh  /  Heiner Siegmund