AirBridge flies high

AirBridgeCargo Airlines is in the midst of a period of phenomenal growth.
AirBridgeCargo Airlines is in a period of phenomenal growth.

What do you think when you hear a company describe its January performance as a “steady start to 2016”? The cynic in you probably expects they are trying to find words that will make a mediocre month sound better that it was.

But when those words come from AirBridgeCargo, you’d better think again. The Russia-based all-cargo carrier reported its January cargo volume up 30% – thirty percent – year-over-year, to 44,000 tonnes. If this is a “steady start,” we wonder what a “great start” would look like. But, wordplay aside, AirBridge did post a remarkable start to 2016, even by the standard it set in 2015, when it saw volume increase more than 20% over 2014.

AirBridge attributes the growth to three things: “a highly efficient fleet,” “network expansion to the points of production and consumption,” and a “high level of service quality.” However, while there is no shortage of airlines with good fleets and good networks, most of them are reporting minimal volume increases, and some are reporting declines. Increased capacity does not automatically bring increased volume, and most of AirBridge’s 30% volume increase is coming in the form of market share taken from other carriers. A well-thought-out network is obviously a big asset, but adding a new destination only brings in cargo if there is a strong sales effort.

And on the subject of network expansion, AirBridgeCargo made a big leap this week with the launch of Europe-Africa service operated for the Russian carrier on an ACMI basis by UK-based sister company CargoLogicAir (CLA). Beginning 14 February, CLA is operating twice-weekly 747-400F service on a London-Frankfurt-Libreville-Johannesburg-Nairobi-London route. In addition to the Europe-Africa trade, this will connect Africa to AirBridge’s destinations in Asia and North America, via its European hub in Frankfurt.

As we have reported in the past, CargoLogicAir is a subsidiary of Netherlands-registered Volga-Dnepr Logistics BV, which in turn is owned by Alexey Isaykin, the founder and President of AirBridgeCargo’s parent, Russia-based Volga-Dnepr Group. CLA began operations with charter service using its single freighter, a 747-400F (33749) formerly in ABC’s fleet, and now leased from Aircastle. CLA says it will add a second 747 freighter in July this year, and increase its fleet to five 747 freighters by April 2018. The carrier did not indicate the source of the four freighters to be added, but Cargo Facts would not be surprised if some, or even all, of them come from the AirBridge fleet, as that carrier replaces its 747-400Fs/ERFs with 747-8Fs.

AirBridgeCargo currently operates eight 747-8Fs, five 747-400ERFs, two 747-400Fs, and three 737-300Fs. It also ACMI-leases two 747-400BCFs from Air Atlanta Icelandic. More interestingly, parent Volga-Dnepr Group signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Boeing last year for, among other things, the acquisition (through lease and purchase) of twenty 747-8Fs. Two of these have already joined the ABC fleet and the carrier has said it expects to take all twenty by the end of 2022. Of course, an MoU is not a firm order, so the total delivered could be less than twenty, but give AirBridge’s volume growth in recent years, we expect a steady stream of deliveries, at least for a few years.

Join us at Cargo Facts Asia, 19-20 April 2016 in Hong Kong, where AirBridgeCargo’s Vice President6 Asia Pacific Joanna Li will participate in the opening session, “Trends in Asia Pacific Air Cargo.” Click here for details.

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