Russian carrier aims to expand fleet as it bids to cement position in freighter market

AirBridge Cargo (ABC) is finalising a deal to acquire Boeing 747-8 Freighters to supplement its existing fleet of all-cargo 747s.

The scheduled arm of Russian outsize cargo carrier Volga-Dnepr, which began operations in May 2004, operates three 747-200Fs and one 747-300SF.

Speaking to Flight International at the Institute of Economic Affairs' Air Cargo Seminar in London last week, ABC chief executive Stanley Wraight said that the carrier was negotiating a "multiple" aircraft order for 747-8Fs, after an evaluation that included the 777 Freighter. "We're in final negotiations," says Wraight. An order announcement is imminent, with deliveries due to begin in 2010.

"It will be a multiple aircraft order for sure, but it depends on Boeing's position and their ability to deliver the aircraft in the time slot that we want them," adds Wraight.

Wraight says that ABC is aiming to become a "player" in the cargo market, and to achieve this it will need to have 20-25 aircraft by around 2020-25. The ratio of new aircraft versus 747 passenger-converted freighters will depend on Boeing's ability to meet ABC's desired timescale, but Wraight says that the delay to the Airbus A380 programme has forced some operators to postpone the retirement of their passenger 747s which has sapped the supply to the conversion market.

Wraight says: "The A380 timing has really thrown a monkey wrench into everyone's fleet planning on the freight side. In 2008-12 there will be limited conversions, but after that there should be availability."

ABC is taking two more 747-200Fs and the first of two new-build 747-400ERFs next year, with the second aircraft following in February 2008. But Wraight says that a third 747-400ERF is to be added to this order for delivery in April 2008.

ABC's 747 fleet will total nine aircraft at the end of 2008, and will remain at that level until the planned arrival of its 747-8Fs in 2010. The carrier is transitioning its fleet to its own air operator's certificate and should complete the process by 1 January.

Meanwhile, ABC is finalising a deal with Russian lessor Ilyushin Finance for three Tupolev Tu-204Cs for delivery in 2007, with the possibility of a fourth example arriving in 2010.

AirBridge 747-8Fs 
©Airbridge carriers
AirBridge will bolster its 747 freighter fleet with new -8Fs from 2010

For more information about Boeing 747 production and orders please visit our 747 page

Source: Flight International