The 2011 edition of the annual Cargo Facts Aircraft Symposium, which took place in Las Vegas this week, offered one of the strongest programs ever, with presentations and round-table discussions featuring some of the most astute and experienced players in the industry. We will provide a summary in the November issue of Cargo Facts (click here for subscription information), but here are a few highlights.
- Outlook for 2012: A common theme that ran throughout the seven Symposium sessions was the opinion that while the long-term outlook for air freight demand was positive, the current weakness would continue into 2012, Most speakers forecast that there would be positive growth in 2012, but at “below trend” rates.
- Will air freight growth remain coupled to GDP growth? In a round table discussion addressing the challenges that lie ahead in the air freight industry, senior executives from Air Transport Services Group, Cargolux, Southern Air, and United Cargo all agreed that the long-time relationship between air freight demand and global GDP is almost certain to change. Historically, demand for air freight grew at twice the rate of GDP growth, leading to a long-term annual growth rate of 6%. However, the last few years have seen tremendous volatility, and some industry analysts have wondered if perhaps volatility would become the new norm. However, when we raised the question during this session of the Symposium, our four participants all said that they believed stability would return, but that while air freight demand would continue to have a correlation with global GDP, it would not be at twice the GDP growth rate. None were willing to predict an exact future growth rate for air freight demand, but all agreed that the days of “double the GDP” were over.
- Narrowbody conversions for Europe? On a panel devoted to regional airline issues, Russell Ladkin, Sales and Operations Director of Sweden-based regional all-cargo operator West Atlantic, said the carrier was considering a narrowbody jet freighter for the European market, with the 737-400F and the recently-launched MD-80F as the two candidates. While no commitment has been made at this point, Cargo Facts believes that given the nature of its route network and the relatively low utilization rates in European regional cargo operations, the carrier will likely settle on the freighter-converted MD-80. West Atlantic, which was formed two years ago through the merger of West Air Sweden and UK-based Atlantic Airlines, is the largest regional freighter operator in Europe. Its 59-unit fleet includes three 767-200Fs, forty-three BAe ATP Freighters, seven ATR 72Fs, two Lockheed Electras, and three CRJ-200 Package Freighters.
- A large door for a small jet: Mr. Ladkin also said that West Atlantic is considering the potential for a large-door version of the Bombardier CRJ200 freighter and has begun exploring the concept with independent conversion houses. The carrier was the launch customer for the small-door package freighter version of the CRJ200, and currently operates three of the type, using them on mail routes that are too long for its turboprop freighters. However, West Atlantic believes that a full-freighter version, with a large door and a cargo loading system capable of handling containers, would be of interest to express operators in Europe, as well as in some emerging markets, particularly South America.