DUBAI: Maximus Air Cargo eyes fleet expansion

Dubai
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Middle Eastern freight specialist Maximus Air Cargo is tentatively looking to expand its fleet with Boeing 747-400 freighters, as it prepares to receive its latest converted Airbus A300-600.

The Abu Dhabi-based company - which is unveiling a new brand image on the first day of the show - is underpinning its wet-lease operation, which it views as its main area of future activity, supported by its outsize cargo charter services.

"We're evaluating many options, mainly to extend [our] range," said Maximus chief executive Fathi Hilal Buhazza. While the carrier has not firmed plans, it has discussed a possible 747 acquisition with potential providers.

If it goes ahead with the expansion, said Buhazza, the carrier would start with two aircraft around the end of 2012.

Maximus is increasing its capacity with three EFW-converted A300s - relatively young airframes built in 2000 and 2002 - from Japan Airlines, the first two of which were handed over within the last three months while the third will arrive by the end of the year.

While Etihad Crystal Cargo is a customer of Maximus' A300s, the expansion of Etihad Airways at Abu Dhabi and lack of parking space for large aircraft has led Maximus to station its outsize charter fleet - an Antonov An-124 and two Ilyushin Il-76s - at Dubai's new Al Maktoum airport.

Buhazza said the opportunity for developing charter flights is "very limited". No new An-124s are being produced, and the carrier is cannibalising its third Il-76 in order to ensure it can obtain genuine spares for the other two.

"We were looking for a sustainable growth model, and saw this in the [aircraft, crew, maintenance and insurance] ACMI business," said Buhazza. The A300, he said, is a "very efficient" aircraft if used for sectors around 4-5h .

"It's not difficult to buy aircraft," he added. "The challenge is to have a sustainable business model."

Maximus is aiming to broaden its reach, increasing its share of business sourced outside the United Arab Emirates from 50% to 80%. "We're looking to be an international player, rather than a local player," said Buhazza. Contracts for its A300s in Europe, he said, have given the airline the confidence that it is achieving the standards required.

Buhazza spoke about his background in VIP services: "When you work in the VIP environment, you become very customer-focused. I think the cargo industry has a lack of customer service."

He wants Maximus to move away from a simple customer-supplier relationship towards a "different mindset" centred on partnerships that give greater flexibility - shorter, renewable work periods, for example, and renegotiable terms.