How to reflect on a year best to forget
Another year over and a new one just begun…well, nearly.
In the latter annals of air cargo, it will likely be remembered that 2013 was the year it didn’t happen.
Let’s start at the beginning of this misbegotten year, when it will now be distantly recalled that UPS failed miserably in its bid to acquire TNT and thereby a sizeable chunk of the European express market. “Foul” was the cry that went up from the European Commission at what it saw as monopolistic capitalism in all its vain glory, and which others viewed as inevitable market shake-out.
The saving grace of this intervention? TNT was forced to axe 4,000 jobs just three month later. Well, that’s the way it goes.
What else didn’t happen in 2013? Well, Berlin’s prestigious Brandenburg Airport didn’t open – again. Originally completed and slated to start operations in March 2010, after repeated postponements it is now maybe, almost, certainly, going to open in 2014. At least, they have kept the lights on at the glitch-ridden gateway during all that time – because they can’t work out how to turn them off.
Something that certainly didn’t get forgotten in the early part of the year was Ram Menen’s immeasurable contribution to the industry. The retiring (and that was seldom said previously) senior vice president of Emirates SkyCargo still leaves a vacuum unlikely to be filled anytime soon.
As to the ongoing on/off saga of the year, carrier Cargolux surely walks away with this prize. Its seemingly eternal effort to offload the 35-percent stake ditched by Qatar Airways looks set to run and run.
As the year drew to a close, the Chinese conglomerate of Henan Civil Aviation Development and Investment Company (HNCA) was listed as the most likely new stakeholder. But that was not withstanding last minute wrangling by the airline’s unions, serious misgivings, it is understood, on the part of the airline’s management and a change of government in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. OK, so maybe next year.
It was sadly all too depressing that Germany’s fledgling second-tier all-cargo carrier, Air Cargo Germany, didn’t survive far into the year. The now-cold ashes are still being raked over as to why it failed, but cold hard cash flow was its ultimate harbinger in a deeply unforgiving market. The bigger surprise was that this happened after Volga-Dnepr stepped in to acquire a 48-percent stake. Great things were expected of a link-up with its line-haul carrier, AirBridgeCargo. All apparently to naught.
The only purpose this debacle seemed to highlight was Volga-Dnepr’s own financial peril. Its heavy-lift AN-124 cash-cow business was rapidly drying up, due in no small part to the military withdrawal from Afghanistan. It also threw into question the insistence by the Russian outfit that it remained a serious bidder for the Cargolux offering. And what of the grand design fashioned by VD president Alexey Isaikin to get the AN-124 back into serial production?
If anyone needed reminding of the bite the downsizing of Afghanistan operations was having on the industry, it came with startling reality when major UK charter broker Air Partner reported that it had seen a 50-percent downturn in cargo charter business this year, reflecting its heavy reliance on British defense contract work.
It was also a year when the grand European alliance of Air France Cargo, KLM Cargo and a smidgeon of Martinair Cargo didn’t put its troubles behind it and appeared to be in continued retreat. As much seemed to be admitted with the further curtailment of freighter operations. The dwindling freighter fleet is now to be divvied-up to ever more slender ends between the three carriers, with the insistence that incoming new belly-hold capacity will more than make up for any shortfall. But image, as they say, is everything.
On a more positive note to the year-end, Lufthansa Cargo finally got its hands on new freighter capacity in the form of the first of five new B777Fs. What it didn’t manage to do was to live up to its own expectations that it would retain its existing MD-11F freighter fleet in its entirety. The oldest two of the 18 aircraft are soon to be pensioned off.