AIR FRANCE-KLM-Martinair Cargo is to cut four more freighters over the next year and a half, reducing its fleet to just 10 all-cargo aircraft by 2015, compared to 26 fielded by the three carriers in 2005.
Erik Varwijk, the carrier's executive vice-president, says the cuts are necessary to adjust to a softer cargo market and increasing amounts of widebody belly capacity, both in the Air France-KLM fleet and globally.
In all, Air France now has 37 cargo-friendly B777-300ER passenger planes, with four more on order, and the Air France-KLM Group will start taking delivery of 25 B787-9s from 2015 onwards, followed by an equal number of A350s three years later.
"This significant increase in belly capacity will partly replace the retiring freighters," Varwijk says. "But the cargo market is also less dynamic than it used to be, and as a group we are only setting modest growth targets of one to three percent a year."
He insists that there are no plans to phase out freighters altogether, saying the remaining 10 freighters will be operated until at least 2020: "We still believe that operating freighters is very important. It is part of our agility and important in our relationship with major forwarders."
The freighters to be cut include the remaining two B747-400ERFs of Air France, part of an order of four it purchased in 2002. Another two ERFs on lease to AirBridge Cargo will also be returned to Air France in December and April, and will also be disposed of. Air France will continue to operate two B777 freighters.
Meanwhile Martinair will shed the oldest of its six remaining MD-11Fs, and one of the three ERFs it took over from KLM. It will also continue to operate one B747-400BCF, which flies on a triangular route between Amsterdam, Guangzhou and Nairobi in a joint venture with Kenya Airways. A further ERF owned by Martinair will remain on wet lease to Etihad for the forseeable future.
Varwijk declines to be drawn on which routes would be dropped or reduced due to the freighter cuts, saying only that the plan was to "maintain our current network". He insists that cargo remains a key business for Air France-KLM, saying its long-haul passenger routes would not be viable without it.
Since 2005 Air France, KLM and Martinair have seen a combined fall in traffic of 26 per cent - from 14.3 million FTKs to 10.6m in calendar 2012. In the same period Emirates' traffic has doubled to 9.3m FTKs, Cathay has grown 30 per cent to 8.6m FTKs and Lufthansa has seen an 11 per cent rise to 8.7m FTKs.
Read Peter Conway's full interview with Erik Varwijk in the next edition of Air Cargo News 4 November 2013 – Issue 764