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Air Freight Challenges Persist

Availability of Heavy-Cargo Aircraft Remains Tight

Breakbulk Europe 2023: The ongoing shortage of AN-124s in the market and the discontinuation of the B747-F means the industry continues to face challenges when it comes to accessing aircraft and specialized equipment for transporting oversized cargo.

That was one of the takeaways from an Air Cargo Solutions for Project Cargo session at Breakbulk Europe 2023, moderated by Thomas Muller, director of business development at Air Charter Service.

Pavel Kuznetsov, head of air chartering at deugro, said the conflict in Ukraine had reduced the availability of heavy-lift ramp aircraft such as the Antonov AN-124 and the Ilyushin 76, while a more mid- to long-term issue was the retirement of the 747 “nose-loader”.

“In time, we will see the number of these 747s disappearing, and it is important to create that awareness among shippers and freight forwarders on what to expect,” Kuznetsov told listeners.

Early collaboration between shippers, carriers and forwarders would be vital, the executive said, pointing to how deugro engineers had already been working with clients in design phase to reduce cargo dimensions and remodel transport configurations.

During the session, Amnon Ehrlich, director of sales for North America (aerospace, government and defence programmes) at Antonov Airlines gave an update on operations at the Ukrainian airline.

According to the executive, just five of the company’s seven AN-124 heavy cargo aircraft have been in operation as a result of the conflict with Russia.

“Of the other two aircraft, one sustained significant damage at Gostomel Airport (in Kiev) – she’ll fly at some point. The second AN-124 was in a long-term maintenance facility in Kiev – that will be ready beforehand. But the question is, how do you get her out?”

Also on the panel, Reza Fazlollahi, head of sales and contract at Airbus Beluga Transport, said the European aircraft manufacturer is getting ready to bring more of its A300-platform Beluga ST freighter planes into service.

The Beluga ST fleet is being repurposed for outsized freight transport services after Airbus announced the aircraft would be replaced by six brand-new A330 Beluga XLs, which are used to fly Airbus components to sites in Europe.

By 2026, five STs are expected to be available for heavy-lift operations.

“We have two aircraft in operation, and this year we are targeting 15 flights. Next year, we are targeting 40 to 50 flights,” Fazlollahi said. “Our target by 2026 is to run about 150 flights per year.”

Check out our post-session interviews with speakers: