By Heiner Siegmund
The flights of its four DC-10Fs between Frankfurt-Hahn, Russia, the Far East and vice versa seem to have become a goldmine for Russian carrier Aeroflot Cargo.
Although financial details have not been published, 2004 was a record breaking year for the airline with 42,142 tonnes carried on the Hahn routes – an increase of 146 percent year-on-year. It was by far the best term ever in the five-year period that Aeroflot has been serving the German airport.
But Oleg Korolev, regional cargo manager Europe, says that this is only an interim result since the airline expects a total of 54,500 tonnes in fiscal 2005.
"Roughly 27,000 tonnes on exports and even a bit more on imports,” he explains.
An astonishing perspective since most cargo carriers nowadays report full and high yielded loads on their westbound flights out of China, Korea or Japan but little tonnage with extremely low fares per kilogram on their way back to the Far East.
Aeroflot however, is in a comparatively better position, by using its rapidly growing home market to avoid the squeeze that poor eastbound rates put on the result.
Oleg Korolev, Aeroflot's regional cargo manager Europe. Photo: Heiner Siegmund
"About fifty percent of our exports from Frankfurt-Hahn nowadays is destined for Russia or the neighbouring CIS countries,” says Korolev.
A quickly increasing portion that is transported "to very healthy rates,” explains how his airline is making cash twice. These shipments mainly consist of chemical and medical products, electronic and communication equipment as well as car parts.
"We are working as a pipeline between Europe and Russia and this portion of cargo enables us to keep an almost equal balance in imports and exports.”
In Russia Aeroflot is deploying a double hub strategy, by using Moscow as well as Novosibirsk as points for transhipments. Between Hahn and Moscow there are daily flights, whereas the central Russian city Novosibirsk is served twice-weekly.
Due to the fact that the Russia destined freight is comparably more lucrative, Aeroflot recently reduced the allotment which forwarder Schenker was given on board of the freighters.
"We now offer a bigger portion of our capacity from Hahn to the free market”, says the cargo manager.
And this capacity has again increased, because since the end of March Aeroflot Cargo lifted its frequencies at its European base from eleven flights a week to to 13 a week. "We had to react, because demand from shippers and forwarders is rapidly increasing,” says Korolev.
Next step on the agenda of the state owned airline is a complete rollover of its aging DC-10-fleet by replacing them by MD-11-freighters. This is scheduled for 2006 and is due to be completed by 2008.
By then Aeroflot cargo plans to operate eight MD-11Fs, which will lift the capacity of each flight between Germany and East Asia from 49 tonnes (DC-10F) to 85 tonnes.
Rumours that Aeroflot Cargo might leave Hahn and move its European hub over to Cologne/Bonn airport are denied by Korolev.
This is a delicate issue and there were plans, he admits, because Hahn’s runway only measures 3.045 metres, which is too short for long haul flights of a fully loaded MD-11F.
But with work well under way to extend the runway to 3.800 metres there is no further reason to quit Hahn.
The airport’s managing director Joerg Schumacher confirms that the extended runway will be operational by May 2006, "well in time to welcome the first MD-11F of Aeroflot Cargo.”
By then, Korolev says, the airline might start services from Hahn to Mumbai, India. "India is a fast growing market where we are eager to get a foot into the door.”
In other respect Hahn is of high importance for Aeroflot Cargo, mainly because the airport’s fees are half of the charges that neighbouring Frankfurt imposes. Furthermore, there are no night flight restrictions, "which enables us to keep our aircraft as much as possible in the air,” says Korolev. This lifts the average utilisation of the DC-10F fleet to 12 flight hours per day, "which we are more than satisfied with.”
Finally, there are as many free slots as possible, "so we don’t have any problems at Hahn if we apply for any departure or landing times.”
According to Korolev, Aeroflot Cargo presently has a 72 percent market share between Germany and Russia of all air freight, including the belly-hold share of its passenger flights.
This has not changed although competition is getting stronger since last year when Russian rival AirBridge Cargo started connecting Frankfurt with Russia with B747-200Fs.
"Fact is, that we had to reduce the rates to keep our clients on board, because after they commenced their services some of our forwarders switched over to them. Meanwhile, most of them have come back because we offer much more frequencies and therefore regularity of transports plus a number of services as far as ground handling, storage and transhipments are concerned,” ssays Korolev.
Regarding Aeroflot’s plans to join the SkyTeam alliance, Korolev has a rather restrained opinion. What might be good for a passenger airline, he says, need not to be a viable solution for a cargo carrier.
"We rather prefer bilateral agreements and are open for other partners, like British Airways World Cargo or Lufthansa Cargo,” he declares.
Background of this statement might be plans for changing Aeroflot Cargo’s position from a mere division to an independent and self controlled subsidiary of the Russian airline. This topic, confirms Korolev, is on the agenda for one of the next meetings of the airline’s board in Moscow.