E-commerce drives express fleet expansion — Part III

DHL is the launch customer for EFW's A330-300 P-to-F programs. Here, DHL's Geoff Kehr accepts a model of the A330-300P2F from EFW's Andreas Sperl.

DHL is the launch customer for EFW’s A330-300 P-to-F programs. Here, DHL’s Geoff Kehr accepts a model of the A330-300P2F from EFW’s Andreas Sperl.

Today we conclude our three-part analysis of the worldwide express fleet. In Part I, we started with some background, and then a look at some of the smaller (and perhaps more interesting) companies. In Part II we looked at changes to the fleets of two of the three biggest players – FedEx and UPS. Today with finish with a look at DHL’s air operations and end with a few summary comments.

DHL has the largest main-deck fleet outside of FedEx and UPS, and its operation is, by far, the most complex of any of the integrators. On its own, or through various joint-venture and ACMI arrangements, DHL has freighter operations in Europe, North America, Asia-Pacific, India, Latin America, and the Middle East. Its owned airlines include EAT Leipzig (the former European Air Transport), DHL Air (UK), DHL Airlines International Middle East, Blue Dart Aviation (India), and DHL Aero Expresso (Panama). In addition, it has partial ownership in, or control of, various carriers, including AeroLogic, Air Hong Kong, Polar Air Cargo, Tasman Cargo, and Vensecar. DHL also purchases ACMI support from numerous airlines, which it declines to name, but includes ABX Air, ASL Group, Air Ghana, Allied Air, ATI, Aviastar, Cargo Air, K-Mile, Kalitta Air, Raya Airways, Rio Linhas Aéreas, Southern Air, and Swiftair.

DHL’s three biggest joint ventures are worth noting because they provide the company with such a substantial amount of lift:

  • Air Hong Kong (in which DHL is a 40/60 partner with Cathay Pacific) operates three 747-400Fs and ten A300-600Fs.
  • AeroLogic (a 50/50 jv with Lufthansa Cargo) operates eight 777Fs.
  • Polar Air Cargo (a 49/51 jv with Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings (AAWW)) operates six 747-8Fs, seven 747-400Fs and three 767-300Fs. In addition, AAWW’s subsidiary carriers Atlas Air and Southern Air operate five 777Fs, nine 767-200Fs, and five 737-400Fs for the German integrator.

All three of these joint-venture fleets operate primarily for DHL, providing widebody capacity between Asia and Europe (AeroLogic), Asia and North America (Polar), and intra-Asia (Air Hong Kong).

The exact number of freighters operated by and for DHL is always something of a mystery, as the company does not disclose detailed information about its air operations. However, the total that we can identify is up by five, from 194 last year to 199 now. The additions, by type, include four 767-300Fs, three 767-200Fs, one MD-80F, one DC-9F, and six 747-300Fs. The subtractions include three 757-200Fs, two 727-200Fs, and five 737-300Fs. Looking ahead, we believe DHL will continue to add 737-400Fs, but the big news is that the company announced a four-unit launch order for EFW’s A330-300 P-to-F conversion program. If it finds those first four to be satisfactory, we expect a larger order to follow. DHL will also continue to replace many of its older 757-200Fs with newly converted units.

In addition to the freighters shown in the charts in Parts I and II of this analysis, many more are in service either to the companies discussed above, or to companies that are not pure express operators, but which have a significant express component to their business. The Chinese express companies, for example, are ramping up their own fleets as fast as they can, but to cope with the huge demand for express delivery driven by the e-commerce explosion, they also lease in main-deck lift from other carriers. Or consider All Nippon Airways. Japan’s biggest carrier operates twelve 767-300 freighters, mostly from its freight hub in Naha at the southern tip of the Japanese archipelago, and much of the freight they carry is express in all but name. Likewise, Toll and StarTrack in Australia, and Freightways in New Zealand, all have arrangements for dedicated freighter operation, and it would not be too much of a stretch to include their fleets in this discussion.

But, whichever operators or aircraft you include, the common thread running through any discussion of express fleet growth is e-commerce. Or online shopping. Or Etail. Whatever you choose to call it, the consumers of the world have taken to it with a vengeance, and, whether they are in Asia, Europe, North America, or anywhere else, the one thing they seem to have in common is a desire to have whatever they ordered delivered as quickly as possible.

So, don’t expect a slowdown in the growth of the express fleet anytime soon.

If you would like to learn more about DHL’s view of the impact of e-commerce on the air freight and express industry, join us at Cargo Facts Asia, 25 – 26 April in Shanghai, where Lars Winkelbauer, VP Aviation, Network Planning & Control Asia Pacific, DHL Express will speak on a panel devoted to exactly that subject.

To register, or for more information, visit www.cargofactsasia.com.

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