As the new year takes off, so do new freighters across the globe. With dynamic load-factors hitting new records of 73%, most passenger jets still grounded and demand far outweighing available capacity, every addition to the cargo fleet is a direct win. And those additions are underway – in the shape of new freighters, conversions, and even new airlines.
Just before Christmas, on 15DEC20, FedEx took delivery of the first purpose-built ATR 72-600F of an order that will see it gain another 29 (possibly even 49) over the next years. A day later, on
the occasion of its 61st Birthday, China Airlines unveiled its first (of a total of six ordered) B777F. At the time, Boeing Sales and Marketing Executive, Ihssane Mounir, stated “With the
global air cargo fleet expected to grow by more than 60% over the next 20 years, the unmatched efficiency of the 777 freighter will significantly boost China Airlines’ air cargo capabilities and
enable them to scale their world-class cargo operations.”
Freighter-works on New Year’s Day
That efficiency is also something Qatar is keen on improving and as a punctual, positive start to the New Year, it took delivery of another three B777F on 01JAN21, bringing its total up to 24 in a 30-strong mixed freighter fleet. “With the arrival of these new freighters, we are injecting much needed capacity in the market helping support global supply chains at a critical time during the pandemic. The added capacity will enable us to support the logistics around the COVID-19 vaccination which is projected to be one of the greatest logistical challenges for the industry,” Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker, stated. Meanwhile, that same day, over in Kenya, Astral Aviation welcomed its first B767-200 to the Nairobi hub, augmenting the company’s fleet with an additional 42 tons of uplift capacity.
Chop and change - planes
“We at UPS were so thrilled to see this message on an MD11 that we are in the process of taking ownership of. The exceptional team of employees who previously took care of this aircraft obviously want to ensure it is equally well cared for by its new owner. This is one of the great things about working in the airline industry - great people who really care about, and take pride in, what they do,” Managing Director Aircraft Engineering at UPS, Ed Walton wrote on LinkedIn three weeks ago, publishing an image of poignant handover messages from Lufthansa Cargo colleagues on the side of their old “Charlie Bravo” MD11. One of the last of the Lufthansa Cargo MD11s being phased out to accommodate its brand new B777F fleet, has found a new forever home at UPS.
While over at Amazon, three retiring Delta Air Lines Boeing 767-300ERs will be changing their livery and undergoing passenger-to-cargo conversions in order to join the ever-growing Amazon Air fleet. Amazon Air has grown to a fleet of 70 aircraft in just four years and shows no sign of slowing down – especially given the pandemic induced turbo-boost to e-commerce over the past year.
Bye-Fly… Hi, conversions!
Just 6 months after it began its second career as a converted A380 freighter, wet-leased to HiFly farewell, the iconic “Save the Coral Reefs”-liveried aircraft drew a heart in the sky on its farewell flight from Portugal to France on 17DEC20. The first such conversion of its kind flew into retirement.
Yet over at Emirates, the world’s largest A380 fleet owner, counting a total of 117 A380s out of a fleet of 269, with three new ones delivered in DEC20 and a further five still to come over the next year and a half, the airline’s President, Sir Tim Clark, indicated in a recent AirlineRatings interview, that it was considering “removing seats on some A380s”. Those could add to its 11 B777F and all-cargo B777 operations stripped of their Economy seats, “and we have four or five A380s in service, some of which have been used for freight operations.” When the majority of the A380 fleet is idle, it seems a logical step to deploy a fraction of them as all-cargo operations, but Clark illustrates the time-consuming loading process: “The problem is that air cargo operations are highly automated. But when you cabin-load, you have to have a whole line of men. They have to manhandle the boxes up the steps and into the cabin. You need about 20 to 30 people who go up and down the stairs, taking the boxes, and they have to be secured and strapped in. It is quite a big undertaking. And the aircraft turnaround times have already doubled when we use these passenger aircraft as freighters.”
Not just planes, but also new airlines…
Though already a good three to four years in preparation, and officially founded in FEB20 by JKL Holdings, a Brazilian investment company, Nella Linhas Aereas, a new Brazilian start-up, is looking to commence operations in the first half of this year: not just to serve remote Brazilian destinations with a passenger fleet of five ATR-72s, but also to offer a cargo service. To this end, it has already sourced its first freighter, a B737-500F, and has applied for the licenses required to commence operations.
One China Global Airways… The onechinaglobal.com website is already up, albeit with faux-Latin place holder text and social media links (including a 2018-defunct Google+ icon) leading to a Wordpress theme provider, but there is no proper news yet as to whether the new Asian startup, founded in JUL19 and whose vision is to be the “first Chinese brand Cargo Airline connecting all continents with China” will actually lift-off sometime this summer, as indicated by a CargoFacts article in AUG20. The website fleet information states “Fleet consist of 5 Boeing 747-800F most reliable and highest tonnage carrying modern technology aircraft,” though the plans are to start with two 747s first and build up to the five over a period of five years. Certainly, the career section, if correct, indicates that there are still a number of vacant positions available, from “cargo commercial director” through to sales and accounting managers, pilots, dispatchers, admin, training, and crew-scheduling positions.
2021 – the year that will see air cargo continue dominating the skies.
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