Martinair Facing Uncertain Fate

Nothing seems to have been decided yet - officially. But there are strong indications that Air France-KLM-Martinair Cargo (AFKLMP) are stepping entirely out of freighter operations. If so, the existence of Martinair is at stake.

AFKLMP’s VP Cargo Eric Varwijk didn’t risk losing a bet  /  source: hs
AFKLMP’s VP Cargo Eric Varwijk didn’t risk losing a bet / source: hs

October 31st, 2011 was the last day KLM Group member Martinair operated a passenger flight. Sometime this year or maybe in 2015 Dutch air controllers might give their final okay for an MP freighter taking to the sky.
The stepping out of freighter operation by AFKLMP Cargo was hinted by the trio’s Executive VP Cargo Eric Varwijk at a press meeting last Thursday in Amsterdam. Asked about the fate of the freighter fleet – MP is currently operating a total of ten Boeing 747-400s and MD-11Fs – Eric said that all options are thoroughly examined, including the two Paris-based Triple Seven freighters belonging to AF Cargo. A final decision pro or con freighters or – optionally – the successive scaling down of the fleet will be taken until June or July this year. “We will invite the press then once again to tell you the outcome of our survey,” Eric assured.

Eric’s telling reaction
Having said this CargoForwarder Global offered the manager a bet. “If Martinair maintains freighters we will pay you a bottle of champagne. In case you abandon main deck services you’d have to pay.”
Interestingly enough, AFKLMP’s head of cargo refused to take us up on this.
A more than telling reaction?
There is even more evidence. The capacity provider is in the midst of a major transformation of its biz, by putting special products like pharmaceuticals, express shipments and mail transports on top of its list. This is evidenced by roughly €125m the carrier intends spending from today until 2018 for enlarging and enhancing the ground infrastructure at AMS and Paris CDG to offer the market first class handling and storage conditions for these products.

Senior VP Sales and Distribution Eelco van Asch
Senior VP Sales and Distribution Eelco van Asch

Capacity of KLM’s 747 Combis might suffice
Asked about the necessity of main deck offerings for this growing high yield segment, AFKLMP’s Senior VP Sales and Distribution Eelco can Asch denied the need of freighter operation. “Of course, there is always market demand for transporting larger items on board of freighters but the products just mentioned fit well into the lower decks of our passenger fleet.” In the same breath he emphasized that his airline is offering the market abundant lower deck capacity for carrying air freight shipments due to the large wide body passenger fleet. In addition, there are the 747 Combi aircraft KLM is operating. Varwijk said that these hybrids, slated to be utilized until 2020, provide sufficient main deck capacity for uplifting larger volumes.

Eric went on to say that supposedly freighter services are completely abandoned, this will certainly affect other products that are still high-ranked on the carrier’s agenda, predominantly flying masses of fresh flowers from – say – Kenya to the Netherlands. “Lately, the Dutch flower auction Aalsmeer has lost some of its importance since a growing number of these air transports are routed directly from the producer countries to their final destinations, predominantly places in the Middle East or in Russia.”

So, all present indicators suggest that the freighter era at the world’s once largest operator of main deck capacity comes soon to an end. Not least, because “we are still losing money on some routes that we put all-cargo aircraft on, despite our many efforts to improve financial figures and cost saving programs initiated by us to this date,” Eric admitted.

Is MP the next carrier exiting the market?
With this in mind, it doesn’t seem that the Paris-based top management will give nostalgic fleet arguments any room. Should the last curtain for Martinair’s remaining ten freighters fall, the carrier founded in1958 by Dutch aviation visionary Martin Schroeder will take its gloomy place alongside numerous carriers that either went broke or got rid of their freighter aircraft. Some very prominent names illustrating this trend are former UK-based MK, Air Cargo Germany, Aeroflot Cargo, JAL Cargo, or World Airways, just to mention a few. It is too early yet to write an obituary on Martinair, but if a last minute miracle doesn’t happen the carrier’s name will have to be added to the sad list of vanished airlines.


Heiner Siegmund