Lufthansa Cargo to select new aircraft type by April

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Lufthansa Cargo is reviewing new aircraft options as it looks to resume growing its fleet over the next four years with six additional aircraft.

Lufthansa Cargo VP Americas Achim Martinka says the carrier aims to add six "Boeing MD-11 equivalent" freighters by 2015. He says Lufthansa Cargo is now reviewing new and converted freighter options and expects to decide on which aircraft type to acquire within the next couple of months.

"By the end of March we'll make a decision on that," Martinka told reporters at a Lufthansa Cargo briefing this morning in New York City.

Lufthansa Cargo currently operates an all Boeing MD-11F fleet consisting of 18 aircraft. The carrier does not currently have any parked aircraft, having reactivated all its remaining stored MD-11s last year, and currently has no commitments to acquire any additional aircraft. But the airline is keen to resume capacity expansion after positing solid results in 2010. Lufthansa Cargo's traffic has recovered roughly to pre-crisis levels after a 2010 which included a 20% increase in RTKs, 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 when this expansion begins and how many aircraft are added each year partly depends on aircraft availability.

Freighter options being reviewed include acquiring new Boeing 777 freighters and converting some of Lufthansa's 747-400 passenger aircraft. Martinka says new 747-8Fs are probably too large for Lufthansa Cargo's requirements while new or converted 767 freighters are too small. Acquiring more MD-11s is also not an option.

"It won't be an MD-11," Martinka says. "We need a more economical, environmentally friendly aircraft."

While Lufthansa currently does not operate any 777 passenger aircraft or freighters, it is familiar with the type because AeroLogic, a joint venture carrier owned by Lufthansa Cargo and DHL, is an all-777F operator. Martinka says Lufthansa Cargo is "quite happy with the experience" it has had so far with AeroLogic's 777Fs, which operate on behalf of Lufthansa Cargo on some routes including Chicago and Los Angeles.

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 leasing additional aircraft in the interim. He says this could come into the fleet in the form of dry-leased or wet-leased freighters. Lufthansa Cargo has wet-leased freighters from other operators such as World Airways in the past, but ended these relationships as capacity was reduced.

Lufthansa Cargo now sees an opportunity to expand as it is projecting a shortage of capacity in the overall air cargo market. As part of a market forecast conducted in 2008, Lufthansa Cargo projected a surplus in global air cargo capacity of 23% in 2011, 20% in 2012, 12% in 2013 and 1% in 2014. But Martinka says Lufthansa Cargo concluded in a new study conducted last year that the market would only have a 1% surplus in capacity in 2011, followed by a 1% shortage of capacity in 2012, a 3% shortage in 2013 and a 5% shortage in 2014.

The drastic change in Lufthansa Cargo's projections was driven by the large number of freighters which were sent to the desert during the economic downturn. Many of these freighters were ageing aircraft such as Boeing 747-200Fs, which will not likely return to active service, creating a potential shortage of capacity as cargo demand continues to grow.

As of October 2010, 10% of the world's widebody freighter fleet was still grounded, compared to 15% a year earlier. These figures were provided as part of Lufthansa Cargo's study, citing Flightglobal's ACAS database.