India: One up, one down, one waiting in the wings


Blue Dart Aviation has succeeded where all others have failed. Photo: Lans Stout

Blue Dart Aviation has succeeded where all others have failed. Photo: Lans Stout

After finally winning a months-long battle with the government for permission to operate main-deck cargo service using an A330-200F ACMI-leased from Etihad, India’s Jet Airways made the following announcement: “The launch of dedicated freighter operations by Jet Airways has been deferred indefinitely due to commercial and operational reasons”

Welcome to India, the most puzzling country on the air freight map. A country which has, for a decade, had the potential for almost unlimited growth in air freight demand. But a country in which, with one exception, every plan to take advantage of that potential has failed.

We’ll get to that exception below, but first, back to Jet Airways. Many observers felt that Jet would finally be the carrier to overcome the Indian Cargo Curse. Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways has a 24% stake in Jet, and Etihad has a strong focus on cargo. If the pair could just get permission from the government to have Etihad operate freighters for Jet on an ACMI basis – so the thinking went – a breakthrough could be achieved.

But no, the Curse has struck again. Cargo Facts does not know what prompted Jet to back away from an operation it had struggled so hard to set up, but whatever the reason, the pattern of Indian carriers setting up a cargo operation and then either not starting it, or having it fail immediately, goes on unbroken.

Or, almost unbroken. The one exception to this endless string of failed cargo operations is Blue Dart Aviation. Originally the air arm of Indian express company Blue Dart Express, it was spun out as an Indian-owned standalone carrier in 2004 when DHL acquired majority ownership of Blue Dart Express. Since then, Blue Dart Aviation has modernized and upsized its fleet, and operated successfully and profitably – yes, it has effectively been DHL’s Indian airline, but it has nonetheless grown and prospered despite its Indian ownership.

That is, Indian-owned until last week, when, according to reports in the financial press, Blue Dart Express raised its stake in Blue Dart Aviation from 49% to 70%. Which moves majority ownership of Blue Dart Aviation to DHL Express. It seems unlikely that this will lead to any major change in Blue Dart Aviation’s successful operation, and leaves Blue Dart Aviation as still the only success story in India’s cargo scene.

That could change in the near future, however, if Ireland-based ASL Group’s investment in Indian all-cargo carrier Quikjet proves successful. When ASL acquired Switzerland-based Farnair, it also acquired Farnair’s stake in the Indian carrier. And it has now received permission from the Indian government to raise that stake from 51% to 73%. Of course, Quikjet is an all-cargo carrier in name only, as it currently does not actually have any aircraft. But ASL plans to place both ATR and 737 freighters with the carrier…

…once an contract is signed with one of the major express companies.




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