United Arab Emirates-based carrier Emirates reported net profit up 56% to a record US$1.9 billion in its recently completed 2015/16 fiscal year, with a strong contribution from cargo operations.
As has been the case with many airlines in a year of falling fuel surcharges, cargo revenue declined (down 9% to US$ 3.0 billion), but still accounted for 14% of the carrier’s total transport revenue. But unlike many other airlines in a year of little or no growth in air freight demand, Emirates’ cargo traffic grew strongly — up 7.2% to 12.6 billion RTKs. Cargo volume for the year was up 5.6% to 2.51 million tonnes. Cargo carried in the bellies of Emirates’ passenger aircraft rose 6% (the airline added 29 widebody pax aircraft last year), while main-deck volume was up 4%, as Emirates also added a 777F.
While Emirates’ cargo traffic growth (and Etihad, see below) outpaced the worldwide average of about 2% last year, the current 7.2% is nowhere near the rate at which it was growing several years ago. However, that earlier growth was off a much smaller base, and Emirates is now the busiest international cargo carrier in the world. In some ways its 7% growth last year off such a huge base is even more impressive than the higher growth rate in earlier years.
With the slowing rates of growth has come a slowing of freighter fleet expansion, not just for Emirates and Etihad, but also for the other big Gulf Region carriers. The chart above shows the current freighter fleets of UAE-based Emirates and Etihad, as well as Gulf region competitors Qatar Airways and Saudia. Qatar is the only one of the four that is still rapidly expanding its main deck capacity, with seven more 777Fs on order. Etihad has jut one 777F and one A330-200F on order, while Emirates and Saudia have no known plans to add more freighters.
The UAE’s other carrier, Etihad Airways, also had a good year in 2015, with cargo volume up 3.8% to 591,000 tonnes (note that this is for calendar year 2015).
More recently, Etihad Airways signed an agreement to establish a new cargo transit center at Giuseppe Verdi Airport (PMF) in Parma, Italy. Initially the agreement covers the establishment of a cargo transit center at Parma to receive cargo for forwarding to Etihad’s main Italy hub at Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP) for onward transport, and the carrier said it expects the investment will translate into additional outbound cargo shipments beginning this summer.
Etihad currently offers four weekly 777F frequencies connecting Milan to its main hub in Abu Dhabi, and recently launched twice weekly 777F service between Milan and Bogotá. In combination with its equity partner, Alitalia, Etihad has bellyhold capacity on 38 weekly flights between Italy and the UAE.
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