Moscow: the rising cargo hub

AirBridgeCargo continues its thirteenth consecutive year of growth since commencing operations in 2004.

The first quarter of 2017 was almost universally a solid quarter for air freight, but if carriers from one region stood-out, it might just be those based in Moscow. Recent reports of high double-digit traffic growth figures are almost reminiscent of those seen during the heydays of the Gulf Carriers, just a few years ago. Lately, as the these carriers (with the exception of Doha-based Qatar Airways) have begun to see traffic growth rates taper off, Russian carriers have taken over as the growth-leaders.

As far as cargo gateways are concerned, Moscow offers nearly unparalleled geographic advantages for volumes moving between Asia and Europe. On the demand side, Russian consumers continue to demonstrate a hefty appetite for imported goods, which translates to robust volumes of both general freight, and cargo moving through cross-border e-commerce channels.

Now for a brief overview of the region’s carriers:

AirBridgeCargo Airlines reported its tonnage up 17% y-o-y during 1Q17, to 158,000 tonnes. Load factors meanwhile, rose to 70%, even as ABC inducted a tenth 747-8F into its fleet (ABC also operates seven 747-400Fs). The all-cargo carrier said that traffic in the regions Asia, North America and Europe all experienced robust growth during the quarter, and that the Europe-Asia trade lane grew the fastest, with tonnage up 24%. ABC has recently been pursuing CEIV Pharma certification, and in parallel has launched a new suite of products aimed at capturing a greater share of perishables and specialty cargo.  Although ABC gave no indication of its baseline, it reported pharma traffic up 70% during the quarter, and outsized cargo shipments up 15% y-o-y.

Aeroflot, which does not operate any freighters of its own, reported Group cargo traffic up 39.1% y-o-y in April, to 99 million RTKs. Cargo volume for the month was up 35.9% to 22,000 tonnes. The April gain is much smaller than Aeroflot has reported in the first few months of 2017, but for the year through April, Aeroflot’s Group cargo traffic was nonetheless up 51.6% to 358 million RTKs.

Sky Gates Cargo Airlines the new face in the region does not report traffic figures, but recently announced it would double its fleet with the addition of a second 747-400F. Sky Gates commenced operations in October 2016 with a single 747-400F (32571, ex-Cathay Pacific) leased from Azerbaijan-based Silk Way West Airlines. In a similar arrangement, Silk Way West will lease a second 747-400F (30804, also ex-Cathay) to Sky Gates before the end of June [FAT 003872]. Silk Way leases both freighters from Boeing Aviation Holdings (for a comprehensive record of freighter transaction data, see the Cargo Facts FAT tool) .

Sky Gates targets cargo moving between Russia and Europe, with scheduled flights to Maastricht and Novosibirsk from its hub in Moscow. Nidjat Babayev, SVP of Sky Gates, said the company is already planning for a third 747-400F.

Of course, growth rates like this cannot continue indefinitely, and at some point, the growth will level out. But for now, the plateau has not yet been reached.

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