Less than a year after Silk Way Airlines of Azerbaijan placed an order for two 747-8Fs, the first of these aircraft has been rolled out of the factory in the carrier’s full livery (msn: 44444).
The Baku-based carrier is divided into two parts – Silk Way Airlines (IATA: ZP) and Silk Way West Airlines (IATA: 7L). Silk Way Airlines began operations in 2001 and flies a fleet of primarily Russian types – 11 IL-76s augmented by An-12s and, for a time, the 747-400F – the first of which was purchased from Cargolux in 2010 (29729). A second former Cargolux 747-400F joined the fleet in 2011 (29730), and third in 2012 (29732).
That year, Silk Way West Airlines was set up to utilize a pair of 767-300Fs originally ordered by AZAL Azerbaijan Airlines (msns: 41068 & 41069) but which would come to be operated by Silk Way. By 2013, all three 747-400s in the Silk Way universe were sporting the “www.silkwaywest.com” url, as is the new 747-8F.
Azerbaijan has invested heavily in aviation infrastructure and SW Holdings, the parent company of Silk Way, has been a part of that construction and the buildup of various aviation-related institutions in the country. It is no surprise, therefore, that Silk Way’s expansion goals mirror those of the Azerbaijan Government’s: to make geographically-well-placed Baku (and Azerbaijan itself) more of a hub for international trade.
The strategy for making that happen arguably began with the acquisition of the 747-400Fs and continues with the 747-8F.
At the time the 747-8F order was announced, Jahangir Askerov, the President of Azerbaijan Airlines and a key architect of Azerbaijan’s civil aviation industry, said “One of the goals of the Azerbaijani government is to continue building Baku’s strategic positioning as a trade hub. The addition of the new Boeing 747-8 Freighters will enable Silk Way Airlines to expand its operations and help the government achieve its objective.”
It isn’t only about capacity and development, however, as Silk Way aims to be a world-class player in terms of service and value. Zaur Akhundov, president of Silk Way Holdings, was quoted last year in The Loadstar stating the airline’s goals quite succinctly: “To provide better service and rates to compete. We need a world-class team and world-class service; and we have both.”
Taking full advantage of Azerbaijan’s central location, Silk Way’s network extends from London Stansted to Shanghai Pudong, with many destinations in between including Dhaka, Hong Kong, Bishkek, Almaty, Delhi, Dubai, Kiev, Istanbul, Tbilisi, Milan, and Frankfurt. Routes have not yet been announced for the 747-8F, though presumably they would be first deployed on longer sectors to China, and possibly used for expansion into North America.
Prior to the announcement of order for the pair of 747-8Fs on July 11, 2013, executives at the carrier had been hinting that they would potentially be seeking up to four 747-8Fs, but no additional acquisitions or plans have been made public since the order.
Photo: © Alex Kwanten
Their announced MoU was for 4 frames, but they only firmed 2. What is interesting, and the focus of some speculation still, is whether or not the current frame is directly Silk Way’s, or if it is a GECAS frame that is leased out to them. If they did this for both of the GECAS frames, then they would have their 4 frames, just in a different fashion.