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Cargo

New lease of life

ACMI operators are seeing a momentum shift on Boeing 747 operations, with falling fuel prices and higher volumes making older variations of the aircraft more attractive than they have been for some time. But market changes have also led to a switch in clientele, along with greater interest in CMI, discovers Ian Putzger
 

Over the past few years airlines have been shedding 747 freighters like old clothes, a process that started with the Classic and subsequently spread to the 747-400BCF and 747-400 production models. However, Air Atlanta recently moved to add a 747-400F to its fleet, which was due to commence operations in November.

 

“Business has been going reasonably well for us. All our capacity is flying, largely between China, Hong Kong and Europe,” says Baldvin Mar Hermannsson, vice president of sales and marketing.

 

He adds that all of the ACMI provider’s 747 freighters are deployed on good routes. It certainly helps that demand has gathered momentum this past year, with the rise in volume indicating a relatively strong peak season for the industry and finally some improvement in yields.

 

Michael Steen, executive vice president and chief commercial officer of Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, notes that the market has strengthened, showing 5% growth overall in the first nine months of the year, with some trade lanes experiencing larger increases. Demand has been relatively solid across the spectrum of airfreight commodities, with key sectors like pharmaceuticals, automotive traffic and project cargo going strong through the year. New product launches in time for the fourth quarter, such as the iPhone 6 and the latest Samsung Galaxy model, are adding to the momentum and have prompted forwarders to secure capacity.

 

In October, DHL Global Forwarding announced moves to secure long-term capacity on a number of the world’s busiest trade routes, especially from the Asia-Pacific region to Europe.

 

“I think we are seeing similar trends to what you would call a ‘traditional peak’. Volume is up, demand is up, and yields are up too,” remarks Steen.

 

The mood has brightened visibly. “Six months ago I would have said that the 747 ACMI market was on a steep slope. The slope has flattened out a bit,” comments Dan McHugh, chief executive officer of Southern Air.

 

The ACMI provider is continuing a 747-400F lease with an Asian customer, with the partners looking to extend the agreement into 2015 and beyond, he adds.

 

“We have no interest in reducing our 747 fleet right now,” remarks Hermannsson. “We may even go up to eight 747 freighters next year, but that is not firm yet.”

 

Air Atlanta has 15 747s altogether in operation – a mix of passenger and freighter models, which gives the company the economies of scale to run them well. Its 747 freighter line-up includes both production freighters and 747-400BCFs. For its seventh freighter, management is leaning towards a production model. However, this comes down to the availability of the right aircraft, at the right time and at the right cost, Hermannsson notes.

 

Atlas Air’s fleet includes 38 747s, nine of them 747-8s. The majority are placed in ACMI leases, but they also play a role for Atlas in both the charter segment and in linehaul between North and South America.

 

Recent fuel price developments and projections for the next six to 12 months have strengthened the case for the 747-400 variants. This has made the pain less acute and rendered the economics of operating a 747 freighter less disastrous, according to McHugh. >>


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