Stan Wraight: new cargo adventures in Italy

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If there is one thing Stan Wraight likes doing it is starting up an airline. And he’s doing it again, for the fourth time.

The cargo industry veteran is now in Italy where he is chairman of Cargoitalia, a Milan Malpensa Airport based all-cargo carrier that is seeking to make a name for itself in Europe’s competitive freight market.

Wraight hit the ground running at Cargoitalia in early September, bringing his deep experience in the cargo business and a rich contact book to the Italian outfit after several years at Volga-Dnepr Group. While at the Russian firm, which has made its name carrying outsize freight on its fleet of Antonov An-124s, he was instrumental in taking Volga into the scheduled freight world with the launch of AirBridgeCargo Airlines.

“The timing was right for me to leave. AirBridge is well established and is in good shape to be successful,” he says, with a good management team, business plan and fleet in place. Wraight was approached by Cargoitalia’s owners the Syntek Capital group, and the founder of the carrier ex-Alitalia Cargo head Massimo Panagia, to give it a strong figurehead.

Syntek, with its connections to some powerful Italian industrial families, is privately owned and made up of long-term investors. “They are looking at [Cargoitalia] as an industrial business rather than as venture capitalists,” says Wraight. The carrier is fully-capitalised with zero debt, he adds. All of these points were critical to Wraight’s decision to come on board and he is up for the challenge. “It’s like starting all over again – I’m doing what I love: helping to get a business off the ground, growing it, getting aircraft and positioning it as a player in the industry,” he says.

Milan has two advantages as a base for a new cargo player, he believes. Firstly Malpensa is underserved by direct air service. Secondly, flying cargo into Milan means forwarders can “knock a day off everyone’s transit time” because the trucking time from cities like Amsterdam, Frankfurt or Paris to northern Italy is avoided. Alitalia’s recent announcement that it is pulling down service at Malpensa is an added bonus.

Cargoitalia is aiming to air freight cargo from the industrial heartland of northern Italy and southern France, as well as looking to extend its reach into Hungary and countries like Egypt and Israel. Initially it will connect cities in these countries to Milan with its sole DC-10.

The carrier began operating in April 2006 with the DC-10 and an MD-11. It is concentrating on offering scheduled services, with the DC-10 predominantly operating to the Gulf and India, while the MD-11 flies to India and Shanghai.

Already Cargoitalia has built up a following amongst the large logistics firms like Panalpin and Schenker as well as Italian forwarders, says Wraight. It is making an impact in the market with trucking volumes from northern Europe to Italy falling by a third since the carrier began operating.

In October the carrier took delivery of two Boeing 747-200s wet-leased from Singapore’s Tradewinds. These will operate to North America on routes to Atlanta, Chicago, New York JFK, Houston, and to Mexico, says Wraight.

“The board has asked me to focus on a strategic partnership [for Cargoitalia] and to establish and stabilize the fleet for the growth the airline wants to see,” he says. The need to find a partner is similar to the job Wraight did for AirBridgeCargo, which saw it forge a deal with Japanese all-cargo carrier Nippon Cargo. The partner for Cargoitalia should either be another all-cargo player or a passenger carrier with a serious freighter operation. “It would have to be an airline which has cargo as a core business,” he says. “We want to share hubs, share capacity and develop together.”

The two carriers would provide capacity to each other. “I see a definite benefit in helping to lower costs by sharing routes and mutually growing business by operating each other’s networks,” he says.

Another of Wraight’s immediate tasks is to source 747-400 freighters. “We want to get something done by the end of 2008,” he says. The earliest a pair of 747-400Fs could be obtained is during the first quarter of next year, but more likely by the third quarter. The plan is to retain the 747-200s in addition to the more modern 747s once they are added to the fleet.

Wraight has worked in the business for his entire career, starting with KLM aged 18. He led KLM’s cargo push into Asia in the 1990s, worked with Atlas Air founder Michael Chowdry on growing that cargo operator from six to 52 aircraft in just four years in late 1990s, and founded Volga Dnepr’s scheduled freight carrier AirBridge Cargo.

Wraight got in touch with Airline Business to clear up the circumstances surrounding his departure from AirBridge. It had been suggested that continuous traveling was part of reason. Absolutely not, says Wraight. “I’ve been doing the same level of travel since the mid-1980s – it’s a fact of life in this industry,” he says. In one year during his Atlas days he traveled for a phenomenal 287 days out of the USA.

He was officially named as the chairman of Cargoitalia in early September. Wraight was asked to continue with Volga-Dnepr in a consultancy role but he declined. “I turned it down because I saw it as a conflict of interest,” he says. Currently his all-consuming interest is to help get Cargoitalia strongly off the ground.