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Lufthansa, Swiss reflect on freighter operations

By Adina Solomon on May 6, 2014

Lufthansa Cargo stopped freighter service to Detroit a few days ago, said Achim Martinka, vice president for the Americas at Lufthansa Cargo.

“Detroit was just not developing the way we wanted,” Martinka said at a question-and-answer session with the press on Monday at the CNS Partnership Conference.

He said perhaps starting flights to the city in 2012 was a step too early, though Lufthansa will evaluate restarting freighter flights to Detroit at a later time.

Some airlines have scaled back freighter operations, which Martinka said “is a pity actually, but it’s also not a surprise.” Even if carriers’ tonnage remains constant, revenue is lower, he said.

“You have less revenue doing the same amount of work, so that means you have to look for improvements,” he said.

Lufthansa has five 777 freighters coming into service this year with an option for five additional ones, though without clear revenue opportunities, Martinka said it will be difficult to convince the organization to exercise the option for additional freighters.

“We will review again and again how many of those aircraft do we need because the fact is there will be so much more belly capacity in the market coming from these orders on Boeing’s and Airbus’ side,” Martinka said. “We have no clear decision on how many freighters we’re keeping at the end of the day.”

Oliver Evans, chief cargo officer at Swiss International Air Lines, said he thinks freighters will always be around.

But Martinka said ACMI carriers will have a tough time because there are few, if any, companies that earned money on just freighters in 2013. If an ACMI carrier has only freighters, it’s a difficult situation, he said.

But partnership makes sense “in order to share the risk and in order to support each other in filling those aircraft,” Martinka said.

Lufthansa Cargo has a target of 5 percent growth in 2014. The airline has seen development in the Americas, especially in North America. The latest Americas openings, Lima and Guadalajara, are stable.

“It’s good to see that we have reached the base somehow and are slowly and steadily growing again, even if it’s 2-3 percent,” Martinka said.

Swiss WorldCargo is also expanding in the Americas. This November, the airline will increase frequencies to Miami to 10 times a week and Sao Paulo to 13 times a week, Evans said.

“The market is tough, but we’re hitting the numbers,” said Ashwin Bhat, Swiss WorldCargo vice president area management Americas, Middle East and Asia.