On 4 July, Nippon Cargo Airlines (NCA) announced that a single 747-8F (36141) passed a government safety audit, and was cleared to return to service. Shortly after, on 5 July, the aircraft went on to complete a round-trip flight between Shanghai Pudong (PVG) and Tokyo Narita (NRT) – the carrier’s first scheduled own-operated flight since 17 June, when the entire NCA fleet was grounded. Although no timeline was provided, NCA said that the remainder of its fleet will reenter service on an aircraft-by-aircraft basis, as soon as safety checks are completed.
The return of additional scheduled maindeck capacity between PVG and NRT will begin to alleviate rate pressure ex-China. Rates out of China began to climb in late June when it became apparent that NCA’s fleet would be grounded for longer than the airline had originally expected. For the period between 17 June and 4 July, scheduled freighter flights between PVG and NRT were limited to twice-daily 767-300F flights operated by ANA Cargo, and six-times weekly 747F flights operated by Atlas Air for Polar Air Cargo.
Capacity between Asia and the United States also tightened as a result of NCA’s grounded fleet, but other carriers have added flights and made schedule adjustments in some markets to minimize the impact. Atlas Air, for one, continues to operate two 747-400Fs on an ACMI-basis for NCA, as part of an earlier agreement. Atlas has also been operating additional charter flights to assist NCA in upholding some of its scheduled flights. Other carriers, such as NCA’s codeshare partner Cargolux, have been rerouting flights to supplement affected routes with additional lift.
Returning to NCA, the carrier’s troubles began in May when Japan’s Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) discovered the airline had omitted multiple incidents involving its aircraft, and subsequently launched an audit of the airline. NCA then grounded its entire eleven-unit 747F fleet on 17 June, at which time the carrier said it expected the audit to take around one week. Now approaching week three, the records verification ended up being a lengthier process than expected. With one aircraft back in service, we can hope that the rest will soon follow.