CargoLogicAir looks beyond 747 for growth

British operator plans to diversify fleet with medium widebodies

U.K.-based all-747F operator CargoLogicAir (CLA) is looking to grow its fleet and is considering adding medium widebodies in the form of the 767-300F platform.

CLA has been evaluating its expansion options, and told Cargo Facts that a confluence of factors stemming from Brexit and the pandemic-induced widebody scarcity has meant that the all-747F operator is looking beyond the quad-engined type and could add around four freighter-converted 767-300Fs. 

In the current market environment, 747 freighters, which are the only freighter type CLA has operated so far, have gotten pricier and harder to come by. According to CEO Nadeem Sultan, prices for production 747-400Fs — not that there are many currently available on the market —  have risen by as much as 50-75%, while lessors are asking for both higher rates and longer lease terms.

CLA currently has two 747-400Fs. Photo/CargoLogicAir

Sultan also said that CLA had not made any offers on “a couple of -8Fs” because of the pricing and state of those aircraft, likely referring to the two ex-Saudia 747-8Fs (37562 and 37563) that have been parked in Jeddah (JED) since January 2020.

“I find it very difficult to lock ourselves into a very expensive capacity solution knowing that, yes, maybe this year will still be a strong year and financially won’t be a problem, but if in 2022 or 2023 we get to the normal rates again and we do have the typical ups and downs again in the industry, that might become a real challenge,” said Sultan.

Around the end of 2019, amid tough market conditions, CLA decided to halve its fleet, and later requested the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to suspend its operating license and air operator certificate for three months from Feb. 27, 2020. Last April, CLA resumed operations with its two 2004-vintage 747-400Fs: one (32870, ex-Centurion Air Cargo) leased from FTAI Aviation and another (33749, ex-AirBridgeCargo) leased from Aircastle.

Now that CLA’s financial health has stabilized, and given the near impossibility of obtaining 747Fs, Sultan said the company has been seriously and actively looking at 767-300 conversions and is in discussions with Boeing and lessors.

Even with the extra conversion capacity Boeing has added, orders from customers such as DHL Express, SF Airlines and, most recently, LATAM and Titan Aircraft Investments mean it may take some time before CLA can introduce 767Fs to its fleet, but CLA sees the lack of slots as only a minor issue. “If we have to wait until the end of next year to get our hands on some 767 conversions, it’s not a problem,” Sultan said.

The ideal feedstock frames for CLA, according to Sultan, would be manufactured in 2000-2005 and equipped with General Electric CF6 engines, like CLA’s two 747s. “We also need to make sure we’ve got the right flightdeck equipment on board already, otherwise you’re looking at even more expensive options,” he said, adding that the carrier will need to install a powered cargo-loading system too.

In light of Brexit, the use of 50-tonne 767-300Fs, which Sultan called “absolutely brilliant” for trans-Atlantic operations, would free up CLA’s 747-400Fs for Asian routes. Although the carrier has deployed its 747Fs on the trans-Atlantic lane in today’s market, operating scheduled trans-Atlantic flights using a 100-tonne freighter “is not as straightforward” with a U.K.-centric catchment area, said Sultan.

At the same time, Sultan hopes to be able to operate direct routes from mainland China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan to the U.K. Prior to Brexit, many of these consolidations moved directly through the main European air cargo gateways.

As for large-widebody freighters, CargoLogicAir has been exploring the 777F platform, though adding new-build freighters would require support from the carrier’s shareholders, and likely an operational agreement with its strategic partner, AirBridgeCargo (ABC), said Sultan.

ABC took its first 777F last year, while parent Volga-Dnepr Group still has six 777Fs on order, according to Boeing’s backlog as of Feb. 28.

In any case, Sultan said he expects to have a decision on the 767s from the board in the next couple of months. In the past year, CLA has been in the “luxury position” of having to turn business away — something that Sultan hopes to change — and needs additional capacity quickly. “Expansion is a must,” he said.

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