Etihad loads up its cargo fleet

Etihad Airways has taken delivery of the first of three new cargo aircraft as it seeks to take advantage of strengthening global trade demand.

TOULOUSE // Etihad Airways has taken delivery of the first of three new cargo aircraft as it seeks to take advantage of strengthening global trade demand. Laden with two tonnes of French red onions and other perishable goods, the first of two US$195 million (Dh716.2m) Airbus A330-200Fs yesterday made its first official trip from the plane maker's Toulouse factory to Abu Dhabi International Airport.

The Abu Dhabi carrier is the launch customer for the aircraft. "Etihad is now at the point where the cargo side of the business is substantial," said Roy Kinnear, the senior vice president of Etihad Crystal Cargo. "This aircraft will bring us more payload at a reduced operating cost and will offer us better connectivity and more transfer flows." Cargo has grown from 12 per cent of Etihad's overall business to more than 15 per cent in the past year, Mr Kinnear said.

From September 1 the freighter will begin flights to Abu Dhabi International Airport from Beijing and Hong Kong, Tripoli, N'djamena and Nairobi in Africa and Milan and Frankfurt as the airline looks to boost its market share in the transcontinental air cargo market. Joining the aircraft on the routes from October 1 will be a second A330-200F, which will arrive from Airbus next month. In June next year Etihad will take delivery of a Boeing 777 freighter, bringing its fleet of freighters to six aircraft at least.

Until now Etihad has relied on leasing aircraft for its Etihad Crystal Cargo business arm. Currently it operates two Airbus A300-600 aircraft and two Boeing MD-11s for its 22 cargo freighter destinations in the Middle East and Africa, and 70 other destinations across the globe. Initial plans by Etihad to use the A330-200F to replace the leased A300-600 aircraft were changed after officials decided to upgrade the airline's cargo capacity further due to an increase in trade levels.

"We believe there's enough business to justify the continued use of the six aircraft," said Mr Kinnear. "The arrival of the Boeing 777 will give us the opportunity to review the mix of leased and purchased planes next year." As the most expensive mode of transporting goods, air freight is considered a reliable barometer of the state of the global economy. It has steadily picked up since the end of last year as global manufacturers gradually increased production and wholesalers and retailers began to restock inventories when the economic outlook improved.

Abu Dhabi and Dubai act as important transit centres for a range of goods including pharmaceuticals, electronics and consumer goods inbound from the Far East and Africa before being transported on to Europe. But an increasing balance of Etihad's business is coming from within the UAE as goods are required to support the country's ambitious infrastructure growth plans. Etihad increased its cargo tonnage by 18 per cent in the second quarter compared with the same period last year, reflecting the improved recovery in the cargo industry.

Many global airlines operate a mix of bought and leased cargo aircraft. Under Etihad's current arrangement, it leases the aircraft on an hourly basis with crew, engineers, maintenance and insurance. With the two A330-200Fs, Etihad's cargo capacity will grow by 16 per cent. The aircraft is able to carry up to 64.9 tonnes of goods and has a range of 4,000 nautical miles. The aircraft will operate twice weekly from Beijing and Hong Kong to Abu Dhabi. They will also operate twice weekly from Tripoli in Libya to Milan in Italy and back to Abu Dhabi, as well as flying from N'djamena in Chad to Nairobi in Kenya to Abu Dhabi.

Four flights a week will leave from Abu Dhabi to Frankfurt-Hahn in Germany. Airbus has 64 A330-200F on order from 10 different customers. "This is an aircraft that is ideally suited to linking the Middle East with Europe. It's the most efficient freighter flying," said Crawford Hamilton, the director of the A330/A340 marketing division at Airbus.