Recently it was Cargolux, who reported a further delay on the launch of Henan Cargo Airlines in China (we reported) - now U.S.-based Air Transport Services Group (ATSG) who had plans to join forces with Chinese carriers, has announced that they have put the brakes on future cooperation and are looking at other possibilities.
ATSG & BrightStar Express Airlines - a non-starter
It was seen as only a matter of time before ATSG were to enter into some kind of cooperation or joint venture in the Chinese market. The Wilmington, Ohio-based operator and dry leasing specialist entered into negotiations with a Chinese equity set-up which among others, is a main shareholder in Tianjin-based Okay Airways. The idea was then to create another cargo carrier which was to be named BrightStar Express Airlines whereby ATSG would supply them with suitable freighters. So far, so good. However, BrightStar has still to be certified by the Chinese authorities, and here, someone is stalling. Another regulatory setback in China. ATSG and Okay had even set up a joint logo which was meant to highlight the new cooperation.
Is there something else behind ATSG’s move?
It is reported that during a recent stock market conference, ATSG’s Rich Corrado, who is the company COO, hinted that they may have found better partners in China and therefore have canned the BrightStar plans in favour of one or other carriers who are already operating in China.
Don’t let us forget that ATSG has subsidiaries who are either in the business to lease out and operate aircraft to other carriers or offer them through their daughter company Pemco World Air Services, converted (P2F) freighters at reasonable prices.
Could it be that they see a more lucrative market there and want to tie that down rather than basically go-it-alone with a yet unnamed and inexperienced Chinese start-up carrier?
Business with Amazon is going well
ATSG have in the meantime leased out 20 B767 freighters to Amazon through their Cargo Aircraft Management daughter company on a dry lease basis and these are operated on behalf of Amazon by ATSG’s Air Transport International. Airline
Have they then maybe found better potential customers for this sort of operation in China, and are they carriers who would not really welcome another cargo start-up airline on their territory? It would seem to be a wise move and ATSG would then avoid any form of conflict of interest.
Quite a few Chinese cargo and postal operators have during the past two years opted for cargo converted B757 and B767 aircraft which until now have mainly come from Chinese passenger aircraft stock. This source could be slowly drying up and ATSG with their global contact and Pemco operation could well be in a position to offer more. The BrightStar connection was never meant to be a sales and revenue commercial one, but rather that ATSG supply them with suitable capacity. Who really knows what’s the real reason for the regulatory slowdown in certifying BrightStar? Political, or other carriers carrying more clout within government circles?
Whatever way it turns out - ATSG will surely establish itself well in China.
John Mc Donagh