India is a subcontinent full of immense potential, yet it is plagued with disorganization and false starts. The recent decision by Jet Airways to postpone the launch of main-deck operations with a freighter leased from Etihad is only the latest example of India’s cargo setbacks.
But Chennai-based Blue Dart Aviation Ltd., the country’s first domestic cargo airline, which flies for DHL Express, is the exception to that dismal track record, and narrowbody freighter conversions have played the starring role.
Blue Dart launched its operation in 1996 with a fleet of five freighter-converted 737-200Fs, said Tulsi Mirchandaney, the company’s managing director. But beginning in 2003, Blue Dart began replacing these older freighters with newly converted 757-200Fs. These freighters helped the company develop markets in seven “Tier 1” airports across the country: Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad.
“The 757s have served us well,” Mirchandaney said. “They are more fuel-efficient, the higher capacity meets the increased demand, and the fast turnaround at the airports help ensure that our delivery schedules are met.”
Depending on demand, Mirchandaney said she expects to add another freighter by the end of the year. But like many 757 conversion customers, she laments that the feedstock for the popular aircraft will soon run out. “Unfortunately, there is no immediate replacement,” she said. “As they grow older, it would become necessary to explore other options, but for now it is clearly our preferred workhorse.”
She added that Blue Dart is “exploring the viability” of acquiring a 767 as a potential future alternative to the 757, but said that “widebody aircraft operations will present a huge challenge,” requiring across-the-board economic growth in all regions served by Blue Dart.