Finnair’s A350 ‘Mini Freighters’ Kick out MD-11Fs

The Helsinki-headquartered airline announced stepping out of MD-11F operations during the course of this month. Consequently, the Nordic carrier’s era as a provider of main-deck capacity on long-haul flights will definitely end before this year is over.

Finnair’s source of hope: Airbus A350 / pictures: company courtesy
Finnair’s source of hope: Airbus A350 / pictures: company courtesy

There had been rumors in the market for some time about Finnair’s MD-11F fleet plans. However, the hurried through decision today announced by the management to abandon operating their MD-11Fs appears to market observers as a rather surprising step. No matter how one looks at it, it seems the phasing out the freighters comes at a logical and well calculated time - when this year’s cargo peak dies down shortly after Christmas and there is fast declining capacity demand by the market. 
Why this step?

More, not less capacity
Here is what the airline says: “Finnair Cargo does not see long-haul freighter operations with MD-11s as a sustainable solution in today’s market situation laden with elements such as overcapacity, deteriorating yields and fluctuating currencies.”
This is the bad news for all lovers of this particular aircraft.
The good and more important news is that Finnair will soon up its cargo capacity by operating the next generation Airbus A350 extra wide-body passenger aircraft. This particular variant is capable of uplifting up to 19 tons of cargo each flight. That turns each of the A350s into a ‘mini freighter’, as Juha Jaervinen, Finnair Cargo’s Managing Director declares. The foreseeable result will be sharply increased load factors once in operation and – presumably – the upping of cargo revenues. Confirms Juha: “With these aircraft joining the fleet next year we’ll get 16 to 20 percent additional capacity.” He goes on to say: “By 2020 we will have 50 percent more cargo capacity than today. That gives us a unique opportunity to grow the market within our product framework.”

Juha Jaervinen
Juha Jaervinen

The first three out of a firm order of eleven A350‘s will join the fleet during the fourth quarter of next year. They will serve routes between Helsinki, Shanghai, Beijing and Bangkok. With these additions to the fleet, “we will gain considerable savings in operational costs along with the aircraft’s reduced impact on the environment,” emphasizes Jaervinen.

Stronger European presence
Finnair is the first European airline to receive the A350s. It will enable the carrier to double its long-haul capacity on intercontinental routes. By 2020, Finnair Cargo will offer plenty of lower deck capacity on more than 140 weekly long-haul flights to and from Helsinki Airport. This long-haul belly growth brings new requirements for Finnair Cargo. “We will need to develop our service to and from mainland Europe, which basically means improving our lead times between Europe and Asia, and in the other direction as well,” says Mikko Turtiainen, VP Global Sales. An example of this was the opening of the carrier’s Brussels hub in April 2013, which established a stronger presence in central Europe. 


A300Fs will stay in the fleet
The fleet decision is complemented by concentrating operations on roundtrips between Europe and Far East, the building of a new cargo terminal at the carrier’s home base Helsinki Vantaa Airport and by establishing a number of sub-hubs throughout Europe to increase the airline’s presence in its wider home market.
“As the rise of Asian affluence grows, there’s increasing demand for items such as seafood and fresh produce, European brand-name clothing or accessories,” says Cargo Chief Juha Jaervinen. 
Currently, Finnair Cargo is flying two weekly A340 passenger flights with an approximate cargo capacity of 20–25 tons along with two A300 freighter flights between Brussels and Helsinki. This enables Finnair Cargo to offer 2–3-day lead times on airport-to-airport service between mainland Europe and Asia.
“Our priority over the next year will be to build on this concept of improving short-haul wide-body feeder flights between Europe and the Helsinki hub. In 2015, we will look for new opportunities and cities in Europe to fly wide-body operations, too,” announces Sales Chief Turtiainen.

Mikko Turtiainen
Mikko Turtiainen

MD-11 Freighters dying out
Another sad day for the MD-11 freighter aircraft.
A good aircraft which on the cargo side has done itself proud over the past years.
Fuel burn and maintenance costs are now way above that of other freighters and the logical step is to stand them down.
There will probably not be any airlines looking to take over the aircraft apart from maybe carriers using them on the African continent. Here however, there seems to be enough capacity on the market at the present time.
Is this move a further signal to the air cargo market that “pure freighters” are definitely on the way out?
At least as far as equipment in the 60 - 80 tin range is concerned!
The A350 and future passenger variants from Airbus and Boeing will definitely concentrate on giving their customers longer range and higher belly volumes and payloads in order to ensure profitable round trip sectors with combined passenger and cargo loads.

Heiner Siegmund  /  John Mc Donagh

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