In a year as tumultuous as 2019, it’s encouraging to see that European carriers continued to add freighter aircraft. Today we begin an analysis which will take a closer look at these fleets, starting with narrowbody jets in Part I and moving to widebodies in Part II.
To begin with, we note that for this analysis we will be using last year’s definition of “Europe” – the 51 independent states delineated by the Ural Mountains in Russia, the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains. The adoption of this definition enables the inclusion of Russian carrier AirBridgeCargo, Azerbaijan-based Silk Way West Airlines, and Turkish Airlines, all significant freighter operators.
Compared to a year ago, the narrowbody freighter fleet in Europe has grown by nearly 9%, from 151 freighters with 15 carriers or groups to a total of 166 aircraft across 18 carriers or groups.
As can be seen from the chart, the 737-400F remains the dominant aircraft type among European freighter operators, at just over half of the total fleet. In fact, even though the number of 737-800BCFs in Europe has now doubled, the use of the -400F is still growing.
More than half of Europe’s 737-400Fs are in service with ASL Aviation Holdings, which is by far the largest operator of narrowbody freighters in Europe, at 52 aircraft. Most of ASL’s 737-400Fs are operated by the group’s Belgian affiliate. Having said that, ASL added a 737-400SF (25773, ex-Yamal Airlines) in September, on lease from Vx Capital, and placed it with ASL Airlines Ireland in anticipation of the peak period.
The group’s 737F fleet will soon turn its focus to the 737-800BCF, though. In June, ASL placed a firm order with Boeing for ten 737-800BCFs with purchase rights for an additional ten at the Paris Air Show. While ASL Airlines Belgium already operates a pair of -800BCFs (32580 and 32610) on lease from GECAS and on behalf of FedEx, the ten (and up to 20) ordered will be the first 737-800BCFs to be owned by ASL itself.
Russia-based Atran doubled its fleet over the past year, having taken redelivery of its first 737-800BCF (32616, ex-Nok Air) in January and a second (33419, ex-Primera Air) in October. Both are on lease from GECAS as part of an October 2018 agreement.
In December 2018, the carrier also added a fourth 737-400SF (25775, ex-Yamal Airlines). This aircraft was still flying under Atran’s AOC until early December 2019, when it eventually joined the fleet of fellow Volga-Dnepr affiliate CargoLogic Germany (CLG), which received its German AOC this September.
CLG, for its part, had already had a pair of 737-400SFs (27673 and 28867) redelivered during the first half of the year, on lease from Vx Capital. The carrier told Cargo Facts that it aims to have a 737F fleet of ten units by 2022 and that, apart from unit 25775, the other seven aircraft are likely to be sourced externally.
Another operator we should point out is Spain-based Swiftair. Following its acquisition of fellow Spanish carrier Cygnus Air toward the end of 2018, the company took redelivery of a 757-200PCF (24617, ex-American Airlines) on lease from New Zealand-based Airwork and placed it into service with Cygnus, which previously operated two 757-200PCFs (24121 and 26239).
Another 757-200PCF (24613) joined the Swiftair fleet in December 2019, on lease from Jetran. This is the first of three ex-American Airlines 757-200 conversions ordered by Jetran from Precision Aircraft Solutions this summer.
Unit 24613 was inducted for conversion at the Flightstar facility in Jacksonville (VQQ) in April 2019, while the second (24614) arrived at VQQ in June and the third (25296) landed in July. This means that Swiftair and Cygnus will end up with a total of six 757-200PCFs. Cargo Facts would expect that most of these will be operated on behalf of DHL Express.
One of the few carriers to have reduced their narrowbody fleet this past year is Iceland-based Bluebird Nordic, which sold two of its 737-300Fs to New Zealand-based Airwork. The first aircraft (25264, ex-Frontier), which was owned by sister company BB Leasing 2, underwent a two-month C-check at the Aerostar facility in Bacau (BCM) and was ferried to Auckland (AKL) in August. Similarly, the second 737-300F (25256, ex-Frontier) went to BCM for a C-check in August and was redelivered to Airwork in October.
Bluebird told Cargo Facts that it expects to replace the two 737-300Fs with 737-400Fs, but said that it hadn’t yet secured the aircraft. As it stands, Bluebird’s fleet is left with a single 737-300F (25263) of a similar age to the two that have been removed, alongside five 737-400Fs.
By the end of next year, we should see a new type beginning to make its way into the fleet of at least one European operator. Earlier this year, U.K.-based Titan Airways told Cargo Facts that it was expecting to take redelivery of its first A321P2F at the end of 2020. The aircraft will be leased from BBAM, which signed a letter of intent with Elbe Flugzeugwerke (EFW) for one A321 passenger-to-freighter conversion at the Paris Air Show.
In addition, Titan plans to introduce at least two more A321P2Fs in the next two years but hasn’t yet decided whether to lease these or convert its own A321-200s, of which there are three (3708, 3749 and 3830). However, given that Titan recently completed a full cabin refurbishment on these three frames, which are all just slightly over ten years old, the company might not wish to withdraw them from its passenger ACMI operation so soon.
Next year, as 737-800BCF redeliveries ramp up and Israel Aerospace Industries’ (IAI) 737-800BDSF gets certified, we expect the number of 737-800Fs to continue rising, but it won’t come anywhere close to the number of -400Fs still in active operation.
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