On July 20, a 737-300F (25172, ex-China Postal Airlines) landed in Ulaanbaatar (ULN) on delivery to startup carrier Mongolian Airways Cargo. Long-term plans call for the conversion of at least two more 737-300s to support continued growth of the fleet, a source familiar with the startup’s plans told Cargo Facts.
Once operational, the aircraft will be the sole jet freighter operating on a Mongolian Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC), but it won’t be the first Mongolian startup carrier to foray into freighter operations. We question if conditions are now such that Mongolian Airways Cargo will be able to succeed where previous startups have encountered difficulties.
Starting with a bit of recent history, in 2013, a separate startup, Air Cargo Mongolia, unsuccessfully tried to launch an operation built around a freighter-converted A300-600F where scheduled flights were to connect ULN with major hubs in East Asia and Europe. Although the carrier managed to add an aircraft in Air Cargo Mongolia livery (743, ex-MyCargo Airlines), no revenue flights were flown, and the aircraft quietly ended up in the Air Contractors fleet. Today, the A300-600F is operated on behalf of DHL Express by EAT Leipzig.
China-based SF Express has also operated 757F flights to Ulan Bator off-and-on since 2015. A weekly Shenyang (SHE)-Changchun (CGQ)-ULN-SHE rotation launched last year, however, does not appear to be operating, according to FlightRadar24. Still, cross-border trade between Mongolia and neighboring countries is on the rise. Exports to China, Mongolia’s largest trading partner, have doubled from $1.4 billion in 2007, to $5.2 billion in 2017 according to OEC.
Turning to Mongolian Airways Cargo’s plan for a trio of 737-300Fs, with twenty tonnes of capacity – less than half the payload of an A300-600F – and eight pallet positions, it won’t be quite as strenuous to fill the aircraft with equipment, perishables, express parcels, or the myriad of other commodities that now move by air. A carrier operating on a Mongolian AOC will also find it relatively easier to secure flight rights to crowded airports in China, according to local media reports.
The carrier has already acquired a second 737-300 (24328, ex-Belavia) in passenger configuration, which will eventually be converted into freighter configuration – likely after the Mongolian Civil Aviation Authority (MCAA) gives the carrier its approval to expand its fleet beyond the first aircraft. As for the identity of the conversion house, no deal has been announced but Cargo Facts believes PEMCO is working with the startup carrier. Feedstock units for further conversions have not yet been identified.