Lufthansa Cargo prepares to pick MD-11F successor

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Lufthansa Cargo is aiming to add six Boeing MD-11-equivalent freighters by 2015 and is reviewing new and converted freighter options, with a view to deciding on a type within a couple of months.

"By the end of March we'll make a decision on that," says Americas vice-president Achim Martinka Martinka. Lufthansa Cargo operates an all-MD-11F fleet consisting of 18 aircraft. It does not have any parked aircraft, having reactivated all its remaining stored MD-11Fs last year, and has no commitments to acquire more.

But the airline is keen to resume capacity expansion after posting solid results in 2010. Lufthansa Cargo's traffic has recovered roughly to pre-crisis levels after a year that included a 20% increase in revenue tonne kilometres, offsetting most of the steep traffic decline from 2009.

Martinka says Lufthansa Cargo plans to take a "step by step approach" in growing its fleet from 18 to 24 freighters by 2015, but the expansion partly depends on aircraft availability. Freighter options include new Boeing 777Fs or converting Lufthansa 747-400 passenger aircraft. Martinka says 747-8Fs are probably too large for Lufthansa Cargo's requirements while new or converted 767 freighters are too small.

MD-11Fs are not an option, says Martinka: "We need a more economical, environmentally friendly aircraft."

While Lufthansa does not have 777s, it is familiar with the type through all-777F operator AeroLogic, Lufthansa Cargo's joint venture with DHL. Martinka says it is "quite happy with the experience" with AeroLogic's 777Fs.

As Lufthansa Cargo may have to wait a couple of years to take delivery of new or converted freighters, Martinka says the carrier is looking at wet- or dry-leasing aircraft in the interim.

Lufthansa Cargo sees an opportunity to expand after predicting, in a study last year, only a 1% surplus in overall air cargo market capacity in 2011, followed by a 1% shortage of capacity in 2012, a 3% shortage in 2013 and a 5% shortage in 2014.

This amounts to a drastic change from earlier projections, and is driven by the large number of freighters that were sent to desert storage during the economic downturn. Many of these freighters were ageing types such as Boeing 747-200Fs, unlikely to return to active service, creating a potential shortage of capacity as cargo demand continues to grow.