The last few years have not been kind to small all-cargo carriers, and today brings news that another has formally left the game: Korean Air and Chinese forwarding giant Sinotrans have agreed to liquidate their Tianjin-based all-cargo joint venture Grandstar Cargo International Airlines.
The jv partners’ original plan was to start Grandstar off with a fleet of two 747-400Fs and two A300-600Fs, all from Korean’s fleet, but in the end Grandstar only ever operated one 747-400F (26401, shown at right), and lost money from day one.
Grandstar joins a growing list of widebody freighter operators too small to make it on their own in the current tough environment. In the last two years alone, the list of failed carriers includes Arrow Cargo, Aryan Cargo, Cargoitalia, Deccan Air Cargo, Eurex Cargo, Jett8, Libyavia, and MasterTop Linhas Aerea, MK Airlines, Pronair, Star Macedonia, and Zoom Airways. Nor is that the end of the story. Shenzhen-based Jade Cargo International grounded its six 747-400ERFs at the end of last year, and despite talk of finding investors to replace Lufthansa and Air China, the freighters are still parked five months later. And on the other side of the world, Air Cargo Germany, which operated four 747-400 freighters, likely would have gone out of business if not for the purchase of a 49% stake by Volga-Dnepr (a move believed to have been made primarily to give Volga-Dnepr subsidiary AirBridge Cargo fifth-freedom rights from Germany, not because of ACG’s own prospects).
Of course it is not just small, all-cargo carriers that are facing tough times, but when air freight demand falls for carriers like Cathay Pacific or Lufthansa, they can park a few freighters, or suspend a route or two, and carry on without any real likelihood of going out of business. Not that it doesn’t hurt, but the bigger the carrier, the more capable it will be of riding out hard times. Whereas for a carrier like Cargoitalia, parking a freighter is akin to a basketball player having a leg amputated. And for Grandstar, with only one freighter, it is simply the end.