Freight carrier Avient ventures into Asian market

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Freight operator Avient Aviation has operated what it calls "a market test flight" to Hong Kong using one of its three McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 freighters, ahead of a commercial launch later this year.

The UK-headquartered airline, which runs a fleet of Zimbabwe-registered freighters, is planning to operate a twice-weekly Hong Kong-Sharjah-Lagos route from August 2009, with onward connections, using the same aircraft, to a number of destinations in West and Central Africa.

The new service will mark a significant departure for Avient which, until now, has focused on Europe-Africa and Middle East-Africa routes from its operational bases at Paris Vatry and Sharjah.

Avient chief operating officer Simon Clarke tells ATI that the move largely reflects growing trade links between Asia, in particular Hong Kong and China, with Africa.

"The economies of a number of West African states are prospering on oil and gas exploration and a knock-on effect has been a significant increase in consumer spending power which is bolstering air cargo imports," he says.

"Previously, air cargo demand in Africa was largely satisfied through lower-deck capacity and ad hoc cargo charters, carrying heavy-lift and project-related freight. Now the market has matured and it can accommodate scheduled main-deck services due to a greater stability in flows of finished goods going into Africa."

Shipments of telecoms equipment and mobile phones will be the mainstay cargo on Avient's services out of Hong Kong and, while the service will essentially be westbound, at least in the start-up phase, the carrier is also eyeing eastbound traffic to Asia, in the form of African-origin fruit and vegetables.

Before the Hong Kong launch in August, Avient also expects to have started a scheduled DC-10 freighter service to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, from Paris Vatry.

"We have already operated a number of charter flights into Baghdad in recent months and now feel that, within the context of the reconstruction of Iraq, there is a market opportunity to go there on a regular basis," says Clarke.

Weekly or twice-weekly flights to Baghdad have been slated to start at the end of June or early July, the particularity of Avient's service being that it would operate non-stop from Vatry - a contrast to the majority of freighter flights to Iraq which make a stop in the Gulf states.

Fleet renewal is also high on Avient's agenda. Although it has spent the past couple of years in discussions with both Airbus and Boeing, a decision on replacing its three DC-10Fs has been partially held back by the global economic crisis.

"No one would deny that acquiring aircraft, in what is a dramatic period for markets, is a risky undertaking. But, nevertheless, we expect to begin the process before the end of 2009," says Clarke.

"While the DC-10F is perfectly capable of operating between Hong Kong and West Africa, we recognise that, as an aircraft type, it is not an ideal choice. What's more, the European Union will introduce tougher regulations for the operation of DC-10Fs in 2012."

Avient has ruled out a switch to Boeing 747Fs, convinced that its activities are better-suited to smaller-capacity freighters.

Clarke reveals that, while the Airbus A330-200, Boeing 767 and 777 are under consideration, the Boeing MD-11F is "perhaps the most-likely choice in the short to mid-term", adding: "We know that there are several available on the market at the moment for purchase, acquisition being our preference over leasing."