Invisible cargo connections

It was a good-looking freighter in its day, but it's day was over long ago. Or was it?

It was a good-looking freighter in its day, but its day was over long ago. Or was it? This thirty-year-old veteran may be the foundation of a new charter enterprise.

Sometimes things just don’t make any sense. Maybe you read a story and came away scratching your head, wondering “Why would they do that?”

Sometimes it’s more than one story or report. Sometimes it seems like you must be reading news about the air freight industry on another planet.

And then, maybe sharing a drink with a colleague, you hear a rumor, and suddenly, with an almost audible “Thunk!” everything falls into place. The weird, seemingly unconnected, stories become neatly-connected parts of a single story.

Of course, it’s possible that you and your colleague shared more than one drink, and that the rumor he passed on to you is untrue, and that your imagination has created connections that aren’t real. Or are they? Here’s an example…

It started with a very brief report on one of the fleet-tracking websites that AirX, a small passenger charter company based in Malta, had acquired a 737-300 freighter, and was planning to enter the cargo arena, with four more 737-300Fs to come, and possibly widebody freighters, too.

A bit of digging into the history of the first aircraft showed it to be a thirty-year-old unit that changed ownership many times from one lessor to another, and flew for a variety of airlines in passenger configuration until it was finally picked up by GECAS in 2005. GECAS had it converted to freighter configuration for Kitty Hawk Aircargo, and then leased it to Swiftair when Kitty Hawk ceased operations in 2008.

With thirty years on the clock, and in need of new engines, unit 23708 was finally retired in July of this year, likely destined for scrap.

So why would AirX pick a freighter that would cost more to put back into the air than it was worth?

A bit more digging led to the fact that it was actually European Aviation Group, not AirX, that had acquired the freighter from GECAS, and European Aviation Group is, among other things, an engine repair specialist. That is, a company that could not only hang usable engines on the old freighter, but also a company that was looking for a small freighter to haul engines around Europe in support of its MRO business. Presumably with the freighter to be operated by AirX.

It wasn’t long before AirX popped into the news again, with a report on The Loadstar that six executives from charter specialist Chapman Freeborn’s US operation had jumped ship and joined AirX. Not only that, but former Chapman Freeborn owners Chris Chapman and Carol Norman were reported to be joining AirX as “brand ambassadors.”

This made no sense at all. Chapman Freeborn is one of the biggest charter brokers in the world. Why would six of its senior staff suddenly decide to work for a small charter airline that operated a handful small passenger aircraft and one ancient narrowbody freighter? Head-scratching time, indeed.

Is there a connection between this Antonov Airlines An-124 and the 737-300F about to enter service at AirX?

Is there a connection between this Antonov Airlines An-124 and the 737-300F about to enter service at AirX?

The next day brought the totally unrelated news that Ukraine-based Antonov was ending its long-standing joint venture with Russia-based Volga-Dnepr Group, effective the end of this year. That venture, UK-based Ruslan International, marketed the joint charter capacity of Antonov Airlines and Volga-Dnepr Airlines. Given that Antonov Airlines has seven An-124s  and Volga-Dnepr Airlines has ten, that was a lot of capacity.

All things considered, this news wasn’t too surprising. In fact, with Russia and Ukraine effectively at war, and Antonov’s design bureau in the process of moving production of its aircraft from Russia to China, it was surprising that the Ruslan alliance lasted as long as it did.

No big deal for Volga-Dnepr, which presumably would continue its own already-strong “Cargo Supermarket” campaign, under which the company marketed the combined capacity of its subsidiary carriers Volga-Dnepr Airlines and AirBridgeCargo Airlines (including narrowbody (737) and widebody (747) freighters at ABC, and Volga-Dnepr’s An-124s and Il-76s).

But what of Antonov? Surely it must have some plan in mind to market the capacity of its An-124s, as well as its An-225, An-26, An-74, and newly refurbished An-22. Or maybe not. Who knows? Just one more mystery.

And then the drink with the colleague. Who, in the course of the conversation, said, “Did you hear about Antonov Airlines?”

“Yes. They’re breaking up the Ruslan venture.”

“No, not that. I’ve heard something else. Just a rumor, mind you, but I’ve heard they’ve done a deal with some guys from Chapman Freeborn to represent them. Through some outfit called AirX.”

And the light bulb switches on, suddenly illuminating the connections that were previously invisible.

On another note, we encourage you to join us at the Cargo Facts Symposium in Miami, 10 – 12 October, where you never know what you might learn from bumping elbows with other senior executives from major forces within the air freight industry. To register, or for more information, go to CargoFactsSymposium.com.

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