Freighter Fleet Further Reduction – Now in the Far East?

Western European airlines have come under tremendous pressure from shareholders and top management during the past twelve months to re-align, re-design or re-shape their cargo products.
This, specifically with regards to their “all-cargo” fleet compositions.

Cathay, Korean and China Airlines are still the top three freighter aircraft operators  in East Asia  /  courtesy of CAPA
Cathay, Korean and China Airlines are still the top three freighter aircraft operators in East Asia / courtesy of CAPA

Some have taken heed and started a cleaning out process, like IAG Cargo that terminated a deal with Atlas Air subsidiary Global Supply System last April by returning three wet-leased Boeing 747-8Fs. Others like MK Airlines, Evergreen or World Airways have just declared bankruptcy and ceased operations altogether.
The latter example refers to all cargo airlines, which have been hit most by the worldwide cargo downfall.

Is it now the turn of the Far Eastern airlines?
An interesting study recently issued by the “Centre for Aviation” (CAPA), which is well known for its meticulous gathering of information on the world’s aviation scene, shows that this might just be the case.

CAPA’s study shows that out of eight carriers they scrutinized, four had much lower freight capacity in 2013 compared to 2012.
The study looks at the facts and figures of the eight regional carriers who publish statistics on their fleet movements.
These are Cathay Pacific, Air China, Singapore Airlines, Asiana, China Eastern, EVA Air, China Airlines and Korean Air.
Carriers such as China Southern, Nippon Cargo Airlines and Yangtze Express were excluded due to the fact that they don’t open their books to the public.
However, the eight above mentioned carriers are seen as being representative for the Far East region.

The facts should speak for themselves.
The number of freighters in service with the major Asian carriers totals 135 units (including so called “Combi- Aircraft”), which is 13 units or 9% down on 2012 but slightly up on (2 units or 1.5%) the good year of 2006.

The trend is obvious: all-cargo aircraft are on the retreat in East Asia  /  courtesy of CAPA
The trend is obvious: all-cargo aircraft are on the retreat in East Asia / courtesy of CAPA

It’s interesting to note that while Cathay, Korean and China Eastern have added to their freighter fleets both EVA Air and Singapore have reduced.

Too much capacity in the area, continued strong competition from carriers outside of the region and a still declining rate and revenue return, are all factors which are forcing these financially strong carriers to also rethink their strategies with regards to all-cargo aircraft.

Aircraft are also starting to be parked at airports in the Far East.
Carriers such as Jade, JAL and Great Wall, have ceased cargo operations and won’t be back.
Some statistics shown here and compiled by CAPA clearly illustrate the trend and the problems facing carriers in this still lucrative passenger and cargo region of the world.

Cathay still ranks first.
When comparing 2013 to 2006, Cathay ranks as number one freighter operator with a total of 26 units. They replace EVA Air as number one and who has moved down to fourth position.
Korean and China Airlines lie a close second and third with 26 and 21 units respectively.

It can be safely argued that part of this fleet reduction should be attributed to the massive increase in passenger aircraft capacity, also in the Far East.
The increased orders for aircraft such as the Boeing variants 777-200ER, 787 and the Airbus A330, all of which have very attractive belly capacities, has, as in other parts of the world, led to a re-think at board level on the viability and future profitability of carriers operating large all-cargo fleets.

The above and the still somewhat stagnant market conditions as well as carriers encroaching outside of their boundaries, will most likely show an even further decrease in freighter capacity by 2020.

Sad, but most likely necessary in order for the world’s carriers to get back into long lasting black figures.

John Mc Donagh

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