The Year That Was

Part I: Looking Back at 2014 & a Peep Into 2015

It’s been an eventful 2014 and it looks as if 2015 won’t be any less exciting for the air cargo community.
In today’s issue we recap in four main themes somewhat on last year as well as venturing short a look into 2015.

  • 2015 – WHAT’S DOWN THE ROAD?



  • 2014 was the year where carriers were more often than not in the limelight.
  • Some were constantly in the news, whereas others kept themselves in the background.
  • The past year was not good for the world airline cargo product. This despite signs of recovery in freight movements as early as the end of the first quarter.
  • Freighter load factors remained far too low at an average of 45% despite a pick-up in traffic. This was mainly due to the continued rise in wide-body belly space on offer.
  • Freighter fleets continued to shrink and orders for wide-body all cargo aircraft declined dramatically at Boeing and Airbus. Boeing however is still indicating a massive increase in orders for freighters up until the year 2030. Who will really want them?
  • Positive development was seen in the conversion of narrow bodies to freighters. The B737 still remains the number one aircraft in this sector, but Airbus A320s are being pushed more and more into the conversion market.
  • Integrators continue to be the winners in 2014. The small parcel and e-commerce sector moves ahead unchallenged.
  • The shift in the regional balance of freight operators moves more and more into the Middle East carrier sector.
  • Final bottom line figures of most carriers still have to be published. However, with very few exceptions, they won’t be anywhere near what they should be.

Here are just a few of the carriers who in our view highlight changes in 2014:

LAN Cargo
The carrier had been showing great cargo results between 2010 and 2013, but last year the South American market faced drastic shortfalls.
This forced LAN Cargo to lease out three of their B767-300F aircraft to Fedex for a period of 3 years. The South American carrier put this move down to the slowdown of imports into the region. The carrier’s management stated that due to limited demand it would continue to focus on maximizing use of the belly hold capacity available within the LATAM Group.

The Grand Duchy’s flag carrier saw a remarkably recovery in 2014. With Chinese HNCA stepping in, taking over 35 percent of CV, a fresh wind swept through the house. Simultaneously, the carrier consolidated its management with Dirk Reich taking over command, heralding a new era of expanding the network, setting up a dual hub system centred in Luxembourg and Zhengzhou and reducing exuberant costs. In spite of some criticism he consistently implemented his strategy and carried his course through. While many seeds have been sown in 2014, including plans to found a Zhengzhou-based subsidiary called ‘Cargolux China’, it will take a while until CV can reap the financial benefit from the innovative new commercial and operational approaches.

A relatively new airline in the Far East. VietJet which will have 30 Airbus A320 passenger aircraft in service on regional routes by the end of 2015, has now stated that it will start planning to operate a combined fleet of Airbus A330-200Fs and Boeing 737 freighters in the very near future.
The B737Fs will be put into service as feeder aircraft for the much larger A330Fs which they plan to acquire. The Vietnamese cargo market, especially on the export side, is seen to be the reason why VietJet’s managment goes down this road.

Air France - KLM - Martinair
Is this marriage now finally on the rocks?
The question is being asked by many and much of the blame for the financial misery of these carriers is being put at the door of Air France.
Both AF and KL managements have made it clear that they will shed themselves of Martinair, which many in the trade saw as being the only flexible and viable cargo product offered by the Franco-Dutch carrier.
Board room squabbles and claims of unfair “internal revenue shifting” have led to unrest and quite a few of KLM’s managers have quit during 2015.

Silk Way Airlines
The all cargo carrier based in Baku, Azerbaijan, continues its expansion in a quiet but firm way. It’s fleet of Boeing 747-400 and 747-8 freighters ply the European, Asian and Middle Eastern routes with much success. It also uses IL-76 freighters for regional transfer of cargo.
Silk WayWest Airlines, a 100% daughter, who operate two Boeing 767-300Fs have recently been granted traffic rights into the United States. Flights will now start between Baku and New York’s JKF airport.

Polet and TMA
Two once proud cargo carriers who finally have been forced to cease operations by the end of 2014.
Polet, whose Aircraft Operating Certificate (AOC) was withdrawn by the Russian authorities at the end of December, has been fighting hard to remain in business during the past months. Debts were too high and the carrier was not in a position to keep the necessary cash flow. Many of their troubles are also related to the continued fall of the Russian currency.

TMA - Trans Mediterranean Airways, founded back in 1953, was the first all cargo carrier which had introduced round-the-world services using firstly Boeing 707Fs and later B747-200F aircraft. The war in Lebanon forced it to suspend operations in the 1980s, but they came back into service in 2000 only to have operations suspended by the Lebanese Civil Aviation authorities due to concerns over the safety of their ageing B707 freighters.
Back they came again in 2009 with Airbus A300F aircraft and finally closed the door in September of 2014.
A phoenix rising out of the ashes? Who knows!

Uni-Top Airlines
Chinese carriers, mainly passenger airlines, are springing up like mushrooms these days.
There are plans for a total of 19 new Chinese carriers to take to the skies over eastern China during the coming five years.
Uni-Top Airlines, based in Wuhan, has a few weeks ago finalized the purchase of 51% of the defunct GrandStar Cargo International Airlines. They paid a nominal fee of CNY 1 (USD 0.16) to GrandStar’s shareholders which included Korean Air.
GrandStar ceased operation in 2012 due to high fuel prices and a weak cargo market.
Uni-Top which has a fleet of 3 B747-200Fs will take over the GrandStar B747-400F and is also said to be in discussion with EFW, the Dresden based aircraft conversion company, on eventually taking over A300 aircraft being converted into freighters.

The list of new carriers springing up and others going down is quite long.
Smaller outfits looking for commercially viable niche markets are on the upswing in the Far  East, whereas traditional carriers, with the exception of the Middle and Near East‘s Qatar Airways, Etihad, Emirates, Oman Air and Turkish Airlines, continued their battle during 2014 to try and reach an almost black bottom line.

John Mc Donagh  /  Heiner Siegmund

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