Last Friday, AirBridgeCargo, the scheduled-service subsidiary of Russia-based Volga-Dnepr group took delivery of its tenth 747-8F, during a ceremony held at Seattle’s SeaTac Airport. Though freighter deliveries are a frequent occurrence, AirBridge’s growth and success is closely interlinked with the future of the 747 program and thus deserves recognition. As Boeing’s backlog for the jumbo-freighter dwindles, the expansion of Volga-Dnepr and its subsidiaries, AirBridgeCargo and CargoLogicAir, may be the program’s best hope to march on until additional orders arrive.
In addition, the SeaTac ceremony was about more than just another delivery; it was also a reaffirmation of the group’s ambitious North America-centric network expansion plans. Such plans include playing a greater role in supporting Boeing’s own global logistics operations – which was an add-on to an order for up to 20 747-8Fs which Volga-Dnepr Group and Boeing signed at this year’s Farnborough Airshow. Earlier this month, ABC made Seattle its sixth North American Gateway with the launch of twice-weekly flights from Moscow to Seattle, with onward flights returning to major European hubs like Frankfurt.
Cargo on Friday’s outbound flight included engine stands used to transport Rolls Royce engines between the factory in Singapore, and Boeing’s Everett plant, along with aircraft components made in Washington, and bound for Airbus. While the Seattle flights will ultimately contain a mix of commodities both related and unrelated to Boeing, additional flights connecting the Americas and Europe are also in the works, according to ABC’s VP for the America’s, Hendrik Falk.
The real question remains however, how many more 747-8Fs are in the cards? Returning to the aforementioned Farnborough Airshow and Volga-Dnepr’s order for 20 aircraft, Cargo Facts has always believed the group will take delivery of most of the jets covered in the MoU, but it’s important to note that not all of the orders have been firmed up as of yet. Today’s delivery marked number five out of twenty. According to Boeing’s order logbook, an additional two units are still on firm-order from ABC’s parent. That brings the firm count to seven. Given the 20-unit deal will include aircraft both leased and owned, we expect at least some of the aircraft bound for VD Group subsidiaries will be from lessors. Last week’s announcement by Intrepid, that it will swap two of its six orders for 777-300ER passenger jets into orders for two 747-8Fs is likely also related to Volga-Dnepr Group. As Intrepid’s -8Fs are slated for delivery in 2017, they could easily contribute to the Group’s goal of taking delivery of about two 747-8Fs per year.
After the plane delivered last week was ferried from Boeing’s Everett factory to SeaTac, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held in front of an audience which included potential ABC customers, Boeing executives, and a delegation of more than 20 from the Russian Federation. Following the ribbon-cutting ceremony, attendees were treated to a brief speech from Alexey Isaikin, president of Volga-Dnepr Group against the backdrop of a cargo-loading demonstration. Isaikin optimistically said he believed in the 747, calling it “the best cargo plane in the world.” Adding, “I hope the program continues.”
Now for a few photos of the water-cannon salute and cargo loading demonstration: