DHL braced to operate delayed A300 freighters

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European Air Transport (EAT), the cargo airline belonging to global logistics firm DHL, has been anxious to bring its first few Airbus A300-600 converted freighters into service, Aviation Exchange has learnt.

The group is in such a rush to operate its keenly-awaited second A300-600F (MSN 621) that the aircraft will begin flying tonight, before its livery has been painted in company colours. The livery is due to be painted in early January, said Gordon Olafson, SVP Global Air Fleet at DHL Worldwide Express Management. Meanwhile, a further few A300-600s are being readied for delivery in the hangars of EADS EFW, said Wolfgang Schmid, vice president of sales and marketing at the Dresden-based freighter conversion branch of EADS.

It is understood that DHL urgently needed extra lift for the Christmas season owing to EAT's first three deliveries being delayed by a few weeks, according to two sources close to the matter. The delays were attributed to certain "certification issues" raised by LBA, the German aviation authority, as well as problems relating to kit delivery. EAT's third A300-600 is now scheduled to arrive on 20 January, Olafson said, while the first was delivered last month.

EAT had originally agreed to purchase 13 A300-600s to replace its 13 ageing A300B4s in a deal signed earlier this year. However the group placed an order last month for NexGen Aviation's final five A300-600 ex-JAL passenger aircraft for EADS EFW to convert into freighter aircraft. It is understood that NexGen had being considering selling the remaining five aircraft for part-out.

All 18 A300-600Fs are being financed internally by Deutsche Post, the parent company of DHL, one of the sources said, indicating that Wells Fargo was involved in the deal.

In terms of upcoming deliveries, EADS EFW is due to discuss a new slot plan with DHL next week, Schmid said, hinted that even the scheduled dates for the initial 13 A300-600s will be adjusted.

American Airlines' decision to replace its A300-600s in 2009, followed by JAL's bankruptcy and subsequent release of 22 A300-600s a year later, opened up a brief flood of conversion opportunities. EADS also worked on three freighter conversions for Maximus. The remaining aircraft, built in 2002, is the youngest A300 still to be in passenger operation, but there are no known plans for freighter conversion, an EADS EFW spokesperson said. It is operated by Tanzanian charter airline Flightlink and owned by Aerostar Asset Management, according to Flightglobal's Ascend online database.

The market is suffering a dearth of A300-600s available to be converted. Schmid said in a previous interview with this news service that finding suitable airframes is a challenge. "The conversion downturn came not through lack of demand, but more due to lack of available feedstock," he remarked.