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Transits in the sun

With ever more airlines pulling out of the freighter business and concentrating on passenger destinations, Ian Putzger finds that tourism-based airports can provide the perfect place for cargo interlining

Air cargo is not usually one of the first things that springs to mind when the Dominican Republic is mentioned, nor is the country readily associated with Air Transat. But the Canadian leisure carrier has been going strong in cargo, and the Dominican airport Punta Cana is a strategic point in its freight business.


“Punta Cana is one of our largest destinations in the winter. We carry about half a million kilos a month out of that island,” says Paul Nugent, Air Transat’s senior director and general manager of cargo. Air Transat’s capacity in the sector has gone up significantly since the carrier started flying Airbus A330s to the island.


There is only a trickle of cargo between Canada and the Dominican Republic, but overwhelmingly Air Transat’s A330s fly freight to and from other points, interlining with a number of carriers that also ferry tourists to and from the island. With some – such as Leisure Cargo and Transaero – the Canadian carrier has developed close partnerships that allow for rapid transfers between flights, some tail-to-tail.


“Interlining is one of the key growth opportunities for a company like us,” Nugent remarks.


Using a holiday destination like Cancun in Mexico as a transit point for cargo makes perfect sense, observes Stan Wraight, executive director of Strategic Aviation Solutions International. In some cases it may work better than routings over conventional gateways. “You can bring flowers from Quito to Cancun or the Dominican Republic and hand them over to Transaero to fly to Moscow, rather than flying them Quito-Miami-Amsterdam and truck them from there to Moscow,” he says.


Wraight is on the board of French leisure carrier XL Airways. The airline is now exploring the possibility of building up an interline programme at some of the tourist points it serves. “Is it viable? Yes. Can it be done? Yes. Are there regulations that get in the way? That is the point you need to examine,” Wraight says, adding that some authorities make it difficult for new entrants in order to protect entrenched interests.


Air Transat has been working closely with the Punta Cana airport authority. This has led to a joint venture transit facility that is currently under construction. It will be equipped with a cooler and will be set up to manage pallet transfers, Nugent says.


Air Transat is interlining over a host of other destinations in its network, which focuses on European points during the summer season, and Mexico and the Caribbean in the winter months (although some routes are flown year-round, such as London and Paris). Besides Punta Cana, Cancun is another major transit station in the sun for the carrier. One of its partners in the Mexican resort destination is Chilean carrier PAL, which flies in with Airbus A340s. “We can sell Canada-Santiago, which is a very in-demand route,” Nugent remarks.


The ramifications from these tie-ins are huge for the Canadian carrier. About 25% of its cargo revenues are generated from interline activities.


Nugent stresses the need for the partners’ systems to communicate, adding that the carriers should make sure they have the same commercial objectives. Another key ingredient is a widebody fleet. Working with a carrier that deploys a mix of narrow- and widebodies can produce challenges, he notes.


Wraight, who worked for many years at KLM Cargo, sees scope for a regional freighter link. Years ago the Dutch carrier used a regional Boeing 727F to Curacao to feed its 747 flights. “A small regional freighter is cheap to fly but has enough lift. It has to be cost-effective, though,” he reflects. >>

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