Earlier this week, we reported that Shanghai-based Suparna Airlines (formerly Yangtze River Airlines) leased a 747-400ERF (35235, ex-ASL Airlines Belgium opf Emirates) from Aircastle. We have since learned that the aircraft was not leased, but in fact purchased. In addition, Cargo Facts believes that this was the first of two ERFs Suparna is buying from Aircastle. We expect the second 747-400ERF (35236, ex-ASL Airlines opf Emirates) to join Suparna’s fleet shortly.
Both aircraft are relatively young, and were two of the the last -400ERFs to roll off the assembly line just over ten years ago. Since delivery, Dubai-based Emirates ACMI-leased the two 747-400ERFs (35325 and 35236), first from TNT Airways, and then from ASL Airlines Belgium, which acquired TNT Airways when FedEx acquired TNT. But in March, Emirates ended this arrangement, and shortly after, partnered with Luxembourg-based Cargolux to supply its nose-loading 747F capacity.
After maintaining a stable widebody freighter fleet for an extended period, Suparna has suddenly switched into expansion mode (at least for its widebody freighter fleet). This week’s acquisition from Aircastle follows a deal reached in June between Suparna and Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings (AAWW) for the ACMI-lease of a 747-400F. The carrier’s fleet expansion is in line with the ambitious growth plans outlined by the HNA Group, Suparna’s parent organization. In May, the Group launched a new logistics subsidiary, HNA Modern Logistics. Shortly afterward, HNA completed the acquisition of Hahn Airport, and both of the Group’s cargo airlines, Suparna and Hong Kong Air Cargo, began to show a renewed interest in freighter aircraft. Hong Kong Air Cargo, for its part, recently ACMI-leased three 747-400Fs from AAWW.
With today’s acquisition, Suparna now has three 747-400Fs, one 747-400ERF and a fifth 747-400F ACMI-leased from Atlas (with a sixth 747, the aforementioned -400ERF likely on its way). Over the next few years, Cargo Facts believes Suparna plans to continue growing its widebody freighter fleet as it establishes regional air hubs at Xi’an Xianyang (XIY) and Frankfurt-Hahn (HHN). As for its narrowbody freighter fleet, Suparna’s fleet of 737Fs continues to shrink. At the end of 2015, the carrier maintained a twenty-unit strong fleet of 737Fs, which included three 737-400Fs and seventeen 737-400Fs. Jumping ahead to the present, Suparna has winnowed its 737-300Fs to just ten units, while the number of -400Fs remains unchanged at three units.
There has also been some speculation that Suparna will soon become a 757F operator. Earlier this year, Suparna ACMI-leased a 757-200PCF from Shenzhen-based SF Airlines and launched service between Zhengzhou (CGO) and Taipei (TPE). The two companies’ stated reasoning for collaboration was that Suparna had immediate access to landing slots at Zhengzhou (CGO) and Taipei (TPE), and SF had sufficient cargo to fill the aircraft. The operation can also be interpreted as a test on Suparna’s behalf, of the suitability of larger-narrowbody operations in its fleet. As landing slots become scarce at some of China’s more congested airports, carriers will likely face pressure to continue upgauging their aircraft.
Returning to Suparna’s recently-delivered 747-400ERF, the aircraft has yet to be painted in “Suparna” livery. For now, here’s a video of a Suparna 747-400F in the soon-to-be-retired “Yangtze River Airlines” livery.
Those interested in learning more about the demand for freighter aircraft, are invited to join us in Miami 2-4 October for the Cargo Facts Symposium. For more information, or to register, visit www.cargofactssymposium.com