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Kerry Reals finds out how specialist operators have been seeking new areas of growth to offset falling demand from the oil and gas sector

Air freight operators specialising in the transportation of oversized cargo may have been hit by a reduction in demand for their services to the oil and gas sector as a result of falling oil prices. But upticks in other markets – particularly aerospace – combined with early signs of improvement in the oil and gas sector are giving rise to an air of cautious optimism about the future prospects of this niche area.


Operators based in Europe, Russia and the Middle East all point to either a downturn in demand for, or the postponement of, projects to transport oversized, heavy machinery for use in the oil and gas industry. But these operators say they are filling the void in what they describe as a notoriously unpredictable market by responding to growing demand from other sectors.


“Like the entire cargo market, this specialist sector is heavily influenced by economic trends. The lower oil prices, for example, not only saw the postponement of some exploration projects that would have required our services, but also had a knock-on effect on other industries that also rely on business related to oil and gas,” says Alexander Kraynov, Commercial Director at Russian outsize and heavyweight air cargo specialist Volga-Dnepr Airlines.


However, Kraynov points out that the company is accustomed to seeing slowing demand from one industry sector being quickly replaced by rising demand elsewhere. For instance, while oil and gas “remains a major sector” for Volga-Dnepr, the aerospace market now accounts for more than a third of its oversize cargo business.


“As oil and gas shipments have slowed down in the last couple of years, our aerospace business has shown strong growth with high demand for our expertise in moving satellites, helicopters, aircraft sections and parts,” says Kraynov. “Aerospace now represents more than 35% of our annual outsize and heavyweight business. 


“We have a strong reputation in this market, as demonstrated last year by the signing of long-term strategic partnerships with both Boeing and GE for us to provide Antonov An-124-100 and Boeing 747 freighter services to support them and their partners.”


Volga-Dnepr Group finalised an agreement with Boeing during last year’s Farnborough Airshow to acquire 20 747-8 Freighters, including four aircraft that had already been delivered. 


Upon announcing the deal last summer, the US manufacturer said it had signed an agreement with Volga-Dnepr Group subsidiaries AirBridgeCargo Airlines and Volga-Dnepr Airlines to provide long-term logistics support for Boeing Commercial Airplanes and its partners using 747-8 and An-124-100 freighters. The two companies also agreed to look at future services opportunities.


Volga-Dnepr operates 12 An-124-100 freighters, five modernised Ilyushin Il-76TD-90VD freighters, a total of 16 747Fs – including nine 747-8Fs – and three Boeing 737-400Fs.


“The diversity of our fleet, combined with our engineering and logistics solutions, enables us to offer what we call our ‘Cargo Supermarket’ of services,” says Kraynov. >>

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