The region’s largest trade event for the project cargo and breakbulk industry

BBAM2023: Air Cargo Capacity Squeeze Endures

“Limited Prospects” for New Heavy-lift Aircraft, Delegates Told

By Luke King

Breakbulk Americas 2023:
New aircraft to serve the heavy-lift and project cargo sector remain a “quite limited” prospect, delegates heard on the closing day of Breakbulk Americas in Houston.

Speaking at the Air Freight Solutions for Breakbulk Cargo panel, Pavel Kuznetsov, head of air chartering at deugro, noted that in terms of general air freight, the “dramatic shortage of capacity” observed during the pandemic is “certainly behind us”.

With ocean freight normalizing, demand for general air freight has been relatively weak for the last 18 months, driving rates lower, Kuznetsov said. “On the other hand, if we look at project cargo, we haven’t seen any dramatic reduction of demand from our project customers – we’ve seen moderate growth.”

The deugro executive said a lack of heavy-lift ramp aircraft such as Antonovs and Ilyushin 76s was an enduring problem, in part due to the military conflict in Ukraine and subsequent sanctions against Russian airlines, and that industry should expect longer lead times to book.

“We also need to be prepared that the number of Boeing 747 freighters will gradually reduce, since production of that aircraft has been discontinued,” Kuznetsov said. “It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. The aircraft has a lifespan of 30 to 35 years, which may be extended with certain additional investments, but it’s something to keep on the radar.”

He added: “We’ll also see new generation, wide-body freighters coming, which are more eco-friendly, but they’ll have more limitations when it comes to project cargo. From my point of view the prospects for new aircraft entering the heavy lift sector at the moment are quite limited.”

Fellow panelist Alan White, chief growth officer at National Air Cargo Inc., held a “cautiously optimistic view” on where the market was going, though he feels resigned to the fact that “volatility is the new norm”.

With a fleet of eight 747s, National sees a future for the Boeing freighter for “a long time to come”, according to White. “Right now we feel we’re in a good spot where we’re not constrained by having too many aircraft.

“The 747 that we operate today are here to stay – I think we’ll see the longevity of our freighters. They’re such an amazing aircraft and we do a lot of project and oversized cargo, throughout the globe. It’s one of the most flexible aircraft available. It can work wonders.”

Final speaker Joe Irvine, operations manager at Seacoast Aviation, an air cargo handling company at Portsmouth International airport in New Hampshire, told the audience they would be wise to consider a smaller, regional airport for their next cargo flight.

Irvine proudly shared how his airport recently hosted two of the five existing Antonov 124s on the ground at the same time – quite an achievement for a small facility.

“I see a major movement away from the big hubs,” he said. “JFK (John F. Kennedy airport in New York) is getting backed up and the truck driver is sitting for 30 hours waiting to unload their cargo. I tell everybody that I can have your cargo any place in the world, long before that truck has unloaded.

“You’re not going to get your plane out on time. You’re not going to get the service that you need. If you come to a regional airport, we do everything for you. We’re trying to beat the Bostons and the JFKs.”

Air Freight Solutions for Breakbulk Cargo was moderated by John Amos, president of Amos Logistics.

Hear more from Pavel Kuznetsov in our post-session interview in the Breakbulk studios: