AirBridgeCargo exploring a dual-hub strategy

AirBridgeCargo Airlines is in search of an HUB-2 in Europe.

Russia-based all-cargo carrier AirBridgeCargo is seeking to further consolidate its European freighter operations with the establishment of a secondary hub in Western or Central Europe that would complement its existing Moscow Hub.  The carrier is reportedly in the process of evaluating thirteen airports across Western and Central Europe to determine their ability to add adequate staff, handling infrastructure, and road-feeder connectivity to the broader region, according to a report in Cargoforwarder Global.

Late last year when it first became clear that ABC would lose more than a dozen slots at Amsterdam (AMS) because of an impending slot squeeze, the carrier quickly acted to relocate some of the lost flights to Liege. AirBridge later reached an agreement with KLM to share some of the Dutch carrier’s unused slots, and minimize the impact of its AMS operations, but nonetheless continues to operate six weekly departures from Liege to Moscow, and co-terminal flights to Moscow via other cities in Europe.

The carrier’s general director, Sergey Lazarev has since confirmed in a widely-circulated statement that the idea for a secondary hub in Europe stemmed from a realization in 2017 of “the scale of problems related to airport congestions, constraints, prioritizing in favor of passenger business, etc.” Sensing obstacles to further expansion at some European airports, AirBridge seems keen to establish a second hub from which it can serve the remainder of Europe with a road feeder network – a model which closely resembles that of Luxembourg-based Cargolux, which maintains two hubs, one in Luxembourg and a second in Zhengzhou.

Airport Capacity Map which shows an assessment of the runway & passenger terminal capacity for airports with over 20 million passengers per year. Source: IATA

Issues of capacity, noise restrictions and preferential treatment for passenger operations are not limited to Amsterdam but are issues many airports in Europe and across the world, and will need to be faced in the coming years. The chart at right, provided by IATA, shows the capacity situation at large airports across the world from a runway and passenger perspective. Note that only three airports with an annual handle of 20 million passengers or more have sufficient capacity to handle passenger growth over the next decade. Most large airports in Asia and North America are already congested.

Returning to Airbridge’s hunt for a HUB-2, Lazarev added, “Given our strategy for expansion and improvement service quality for special cargoes it is of vital importance for ABC to find partners with a high level of handling services, extensive operational opportunities including for all types of special cargo and well-developed ground and airport infrastructure.”

At present, there are few airports in Europe which could feasibly accommodate the staffing and infrastructure requirements for an expansive hub. Likely candidates are Liege Airport (LGG) in Belgium, which recently announced major investments aimed at boosting cargo throughput capacity, or the underutilized Hahn Airport (HHN) located on the outskirts of Frankfurt.

For AirBridgeCargo, it remains to be seen how a second hub and greater reliance on road-feeder services will affect the carrier’s future fleet plans. ABC’s parent company Volga-Dnepr Group still has 14 747-8 freighters on order with Boeing as part of an MoU for twenty 747-8Fs it signed back in 2015. Volga-Dnepr could to take delivery of all 14 or choose to reduce this number. AirBridge’s fleet currently consists of seven 747-400Fs and eleven 747-8Fs.

But Europe is just one region of focus for ABC. Those interested in learning more about AirBridgeCargo’s plans for Asia are invited to join us in Shanghai 23-25 April for Cargo Facts Asia 2018. Joanna Li, Vice President, Chartered Cargo Operations and Scheduled Cargo Operations, Asia & Pacific, AirBridgeCargo Airlines will speak on a panel dedicated to Asia’s rapidly growing appetite for Air Cargo. To see this year’s exciting agenda, or to register, visit www.cargofactsasia.com.

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