Freighter order fuels ABC’s global ambitions
29 / 06 / 2015
Volga-Dnepr’s planned $7.4bn order for 20 Boeing 747-8 freighters will transform its AirBridgeCargo Airlines subsidiary from a niche regional player into a global giant.
Denis Ilin, ABC’s executive president, told Air Cargo News: “We are pretty well established on the trade lane between China and Europe, and on some of the China-US lanes, but there are still huge gaps for us to look at.
“Our customers are asking us to fly more to the US, to the Middle East, to Africa, and to South America, but unfortunately we cannot provide this type of service at the moment.
“We have to change ourselves from some kind of regional operator, serving only one or two traffic lanes, to one with global coverage. So the answer is pretty simple, we need to expand our network to be more globally positioned.”
The Memorandum of Understanding signed by Volga-Dnepr with US planemaker Boeing at the Paris Air Show is a broad agreement over seven years that covers both the plane orders and the expansion of an existing logistics supply deal that will see the Russian carrier’s Antonov and 747 freighters carry components and engines for the Dreamliner and other Boeing production models.
The full contract should be signed by the end of this year.
The nose-loading -8s will arrive at the rate of around two a year as additions to the current ABC fleet of four B747-400ERFs, three B747-400Fs and five B747-8Fs. From 2020, when the leases run out on the -400Fs, the new freighters will then become replacements.
Ilin said: “By 2025 we target to have a fleet of 25 airplanes, all of them -8Fs.”
ABC went with the -8F, rather than the popular B777-200F side-loader, because it was the “natural choice”.
Added Ilin: “The 747 is an aircraft that, in cargo terms, can do much more than any other options. The B777 is a brilliant product and the best in serving both niches, passenger and cargo.
“But if you look at cargo specifics, then the B747 can definitely do much more than the B777 in terms of specification for the cargo we can carry.
“We don’t have another bet, we need to make a choice towards an aircraft that is more diverse in its capabilities. That is the B747. For us it is the natural choice.”
Despite some industry doubts, ABC still sees a need for nose-loading aircraft like the -8F: “It depends on the traffic and geography. Mostly out of China we don’t use the nose-loading capability, but on the routes ex-Europe and ex-US, there is still a requirement.
“For example, out of Dallas, I would say that 75% of our flights require nose-loaders, not just to speed up the loading process but because of the nature of the cargo. It is a competitive advantage which we need to have.”
ABC is targeting an average 11% growth in cargo volumes over the next five years, said Ilin, well ahead of the general market.
“We are picking up traffics and destinations which are being abandoned by somebody else. We are now flying to Helsinki and Basle, destinations which the customers want and which are currently underserved. And we see more opportunities like this coming.”
Boeing has announced that it will scale down the production cycle of the 747-8 to one a month, compared with the previous average of 1.5 per month, a reflection of dampened freighter version demand, despite the Volga-Dnepr order.
Was ABC staking a prior claim to the production line slots for freighters? No, Said Ilin, adding: “Obviously, 20 airplanes is a big number, but we not going to take them all in one piece. We plan to have two, or a maximum of three, airplane deliveries per year. Even at the rate of one aircraft a month it will allow for additional delivery slots.
“Our order does not limit Boeing in what it can deliver.”
So, has Volga-Dnepr fired the starting gun for other major freighter operators to place their -8F orders? Perhaps, says Ilin, but more importantly it sends out a strong message about ABC’s commitment to the market.
“We remain focused on our priorities, and our customers like flexibility. They prefer people who guarantee service today and tomorrow, irrespective of internal priorities, and that is what we are looking for.
“We want to provide market confidence in what we do now and what we will do tomorrow. From this perspective we really hope that customers will pay attention to that and come to us rather than anybody else.
“And if the competition follows us? Well, it means that we are going in the right direction. If not, we will go ahead of them and keep that leading position.”