Currently, air freight is contributing 4 percent to the Moroccan national carrier's annual revenue. "We can do better," says Royal Air Maroc VP Cargo, Amine El Farissi. During the next 3 years he wants to triple the turnover in air freight, primarily by developing Casablanca into a cargo hub. In order to achieve this ambitious goal RAM Cargo intensifies the close cooperation with its GSA, European Cargo Services – ECS.
The pressure is on ECS, RAM Cargo’s by far most important general sales agent, responsible for managing Morocco Airline’s cargo business in the U.S., Africa, the Middle East, Germany, Belgium or
France. “Upping the tonnage in a threefold way within the next three years is a real challenge, but a task I’m sure we will carry out successfully,” states COO Adrien Thominet of the Paris-based
general sales agent.
How well this partnership has worked out so far is documented in RAM’s 2014 annual report in which the cooperation is highly praised: “The agreement (with ECS) has made it possible to boost sales from the major European and African hubs.” Particularly after the launch of freighter flights on African routes, complementing the six weekly Brussels to Casablanca services operated by a Boeing 737-300 freighter, “revenues were up 15 percent and the average utilization rate of the cargo plane increased by 35 percent,” writes the management of the state-owned airline.
A positive trend RAM Cargo helmsman Amine is eager to accelerate and to cement.
Investment in assets vs. liaising with other carriers
Basically, RAM Cargo can achieve its aims by adding more freighters to the fleet, complementing the sole Boeing 737-300F now in service. This consideration is currently being analyzed by external experts as to the merits and limitations that this step might imply. So is plan B that favors teaming up with other carriers to enter into capacity sharing agreements.
Which option will prevail at the end remains to be seen in a couple of weeks when the study will be presented. But if not mistaken Amine and his management seem to prefer the growth strategy based on external partnerships.
Cooperating with EY Cargo
A model project in this context is the deal inked by RAM Cargo and Etihad Cargo that helps both carriers to better the utilization of their aircraft on flights from Abu Dhabi via Casablanca to New York (JFK). Because of the length of the transatlantic route Etihad is forced to constrain its loads when carrying cargo from AUH all the way nonstop across the pond. To bypass this restriction the airline puts one or two containers on their Casablanca services where RAM takes over, carrying the shipments from there on behalf of EY in the lower deck holds of their own aircraft to NYC.
“A similar capacity sharing model we could ink with Qatar Cargo, having them transporting shipments originating in Asia into Casablanca where we would then distribute the various goods to the final African destinations served by us. This also applies to Sao Paulo and Montreal that together with JFK are part of our transatlantic network,” says Mr El Farissi when highlighting his personal preference for upping the results of Royal Air Maroc’s cargo subsidiary (100%) step by step by joining forces with partnering airlines.
Focusing on the African market
Right now, the Moroccan airline is serving 34 destinations in Africa, making it one of the main airlines on the continent together with Ethiopian and South African. In cargo, Africa is RAM’s second largest market in terms of revenues (24%) and the third largest in terms of traffic (16%), behind France and the ‘rest’ of Europe. “From our GSA point of view we see particularly in Sub-Sahara Africa a great potential for developing RAM Cargo’s air freight business much further in the years to come,” indicates Monsieur Thominet of ECS.
Using Casablanca as hub
To provide customers optimal connectivity, the cargo division of RAM increasingly tends to coordinate regional and international flights in a timely manner for shortening transit times. That’s where Casablanca’s Mohammed V International Airport comes into the spotlight and its role as hub for both passenger and cargo services. Successfully implemented as a central gateway by the passenger division some time ago RAM Cargo meanwhile intends following suit. “What has worked out well for our air travelers, offering them fast transition from incoming to outgoing flight, will also be beneficial for our cargo business, lifting the attractiveness of the airport and our airline,” states Mr El Farissi.
When looking at the broad picture, there are a number of aspects that support his point, such as no flight constraints at Casablanca, the stable weather situation preventing flight interruptions, the favorable geographical location of the airport on the crossroads of Europe, Sub-Sahara Africa, America, the Middle and Far East, and - last but not least - the political stability of the Western Arabian country. The latter is the main reason why foreign investors keep flocking to Morocco in contrast to pursuing business plans in the much troubled Arabian neighborhood.
"Unlike European or Golf carriers we operate out of a gateway that's based on the African continent enabling us fast access to many destinations. In contrast, our European competitors or the ones based in the Middle East offer their cargo clients only direct flights from outside the continent without access to stable intra African distribution services," he stresses.
Of paramount importance for his division are the six weekly 737-300 freighter flights linking Brussels and Casablanca with beyond services operated nightly to Ouagadougou and Bamako (both twice weekly), Conakry, Algiers and Nouakchott (each once per week).
Complementing the Brussels – Casablanca flights are bonded trucking services from Belgium, France and Spain into Morocco, using the same air waybill number as do the flights. Amina Tagemouati, RAM Cargo’s head of the ancillary revenue department adds to this that the road feeder options go much further. “We can send vehicles to many European cities. For instance, we trucked 80 tons from Bratislava to Casablanca where the goods were loaded on board our aircraft bound for New York.”
This multi-modal project is a fairly new product RAM Cargo offers the market. “The operation is very efficient and it ups our profitability,” states Amine Farissi.
U.S. promo event
Flights to the U.S. (New York), Canada (Montreal) and Brazil (Sao Paulo) play a decisive role in the carrier’s long-term strategy for penetrating additional markets.
For promoting specifically the U.S. market, RAM Cargo together with ECS invited major clients last week to New York to present the airline’s abilities in cargo transport. “There is a lot of machinery, diplomatic goods or personal effects that fly eastbound to final African destinations like Douala, Accra, Bangui or Freetown,” Cargo Manager Northeast USA, André Pannullo of ECS subsidiary Globe Air Cargo told Cargo Forwarder Global at the meeting.
Currently, transatlantic flights are operated by either Boeing 787s or 767s. Once two additional ‘Dreamliners’ come into the fleet next year, upping the number of wide-body aircraft to nine, all four 767 passenger jets will be taken off transatlantic routes and be deployed within RAM’s pan-African network.
That’s good news for general sales agent ECS: “It increases both the capacity we can offer the local African market and on flights to and from America,” enthuses manager Adrien. According to him, together with the hubbing concept and the aim to join forces with other carriers the cautious upping of the wide-body fleet is a decisive step to achieve the 15 percent growth target postulated by RAM Cargo Chief El Farissi.
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