COMMENTARY / Martinair Cargo – the Real Pioneers

Having had spent the best part of twenty years with Martinair Cargo I feel that if cargo operations were to cease, then the carrier deserves a better send off than the present AF/KL management is preparing for it.

Soon out of operation? One of Martinair’s MD-11 freighters at Schiphol airport  /  source: MP
Soon out of operation? One of Martinair’s MD-11 freighters at Schiphol airport / source: MP

Who knows! - if MP had been allowed to remain with its own form of cargo operations instead of being sucked into the blue and white AF/KL camp, then things could well have looked different today and AF/KL’s bottom line results in cargo may also have been more gratifying.
One has to admit however that the present MP fleet is somewhat outdated and not necessarily a positive contributory factor to help AF/KL reach positive figures.
But, could it have been deployed differently in other niche markets? - at least in the early years of the takeover!

The market tends to forget that it was carriers such as MP, alongside the early Cargolux team and German Cargo Services, the mother of today’s LH Cargo, that pioneered most of those earlier all-cargo routes to and from the Middle - Far East and North America.
Many might say, “nostalgic thinking,” - in a way, yes, but on the other hand without carriers such as MP, headed by Martin Schroeder, it’s far thinking founder, these routes might not have developed as they are today.

Nothing but a brand name
In its present form, Martinair remains only as a brand name, supplying capacity with its freighter fleet to a disrupted AF/KL cargo product which has been unable to make money for some years hence, pulling MP into the water alongside them.
My feeling is that they (AF-KL) did not pay enough (if any) attention to MP’s method of controlling operating costs when they decided to integrate the carrier altogether.
Back in the old days (nostalgia again!)  - CFC was the bible within MP. “Contribution to Fixed Cost” - this rule was foremost in our minds when planning short and long term operations. And, it worked.
It was team work from the start to the end.

You were part of a setup where maintenance and operations were somehow integrated into commercial thinking and needs. MP’s cargo pilots did not shirk away from “lending a helping hand” when necessary alongside loadmasters at foreign stations.
This was instilled upon us by Martin Schroeder himself who realized from day one the absolute need an “integrated team” in order to keep his carrier up front.

The passenger business was maybe doomed to die due to the enormous pricing competition which MP faced as of the 1990s on its short and long haul routes.
However, the cargo operation was a profitable product which surely could have remained as such in the form of a niche operation for AF/KL.

Who knows! - too late to think back on that now
Nostalgic thinking! - maybe - but it just goes to show how a good product can be doomed by, dare I say it? - lack of forward thinking!
I, as many of my old colleagues, look back fondly and proudly on those pioneering days and the chances and freedom Martin gave us to go and do it and prove our point.

John Mc Donagh