Atlas confident over 747-8F as it scales back -200F fleet

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Atlas Air believes Boeing is still committed to producing the 747-8 freighter, but says it is still in discussions over a revised delivery schedule for the jet.

The US 747 wet-lease specialist says the delay in the delivery schedule - to late 2010 at the earliest - will "considerably" reduce pre-deposit payments to the airframer this year. During 2009 it expects to make $48 million in progress payments on the 12 747-8Fs it has on order.

Speaking during the release of the company's full-year financial results, Atlas Air chief Bill Flynn said that his "sense" was that Boeing intended to continue the programme.

"Certainly something could happen but...we believe they are committed to building up the platform," he adds. "We are currently in discussions with Boeing regarding a revised delivery schedule."

Atlas Air states that, over the course of last year, it has seen a 25% cut in the number of 747-200Fs in the market, to around 108, and is scaling back its own 747-200F fleet to just seven aircraft.

The carrier says it has negotiated "favourable" early-termination agreements with lessors on four 747-200Fs, adding that this will enable it to avoid "costly" maintenance of the jets, and use remaining engines and parts to support the aircraft still in service.

Atlas Air says, however, that it will take a pre-tax special charge of $91 million relating to the "resizing" of the 747-200F fleet, and a maintenance charge of $8 million relating to early termination of a maintenance contract for the type's engines.

The carrier says the adjustments mean its 747-200Fs are "unencumbered" and that the aircraft will be managed "opportunitically".

In addition to the seven 747-200Fs, Atlas Air has 22 747-400Fs under ACMI contracts. The other two are used for maintenance cover or charter.

Sixteen of the 747-400Fs are under contract throughout 2009, limiting Atlas' exposure to four aircraft this year: two jets being returned from DHL have had their delivery to another customer delayed until October, while a third aircraft is being returned and a fourth is up for contract renewal.

Atlas says it would be prepared to deploy temporarily 747-400Fs to the charter market in place of 747-200F capacity, if there is a gap between long-term agreements, but insists it will not place them in ACMI contracts at "bottom of the market" prices.

Flynn says that soft demand will drive "ageing and inefficient capacity" out of the market, adding: "This will offset the impact of reduction in overall air freight demand."

He expects "substantially more" of the older 747-200Fs to be withdrawn this year, adding: "They will not return to service when the eventual recovery comes."

Atlas Air turned in pre-tax earnings of $114 million last year on revenues of $1.6 billion. Fourth-quarter pre-tax earnings reached $103.5 million.