Atlas Air has deferred plans to add aircraft in the medium-sized freighter category until the end of this year at the earliest, as it reduces its fleet by a third after the fall in demand for its Boeing 747 cargo wet-lease business.

The all-747 operator's new chief financial officer Doug Carty says its recently unveiled fractional wet-lease partnership programme could boost the long-term prospects for a second aircraft type. "I believe over time there will be a role for a smaller model," he says.

Atlas's strategy this year will entail diversifying beyond its traditional wet-lease product, not adding more 747 capacity or new aircraft types, Carty told the Cargo Facts Annual Aircraft Symposium in Seattle, Washington, last week. Atlas continues to reduce its fleet, with its new Polar Air Cargo subsidiary most affected. Carty says Atlas and Polar combined will operate only 35 or 36 aircraft by mid-year, down from 50 in December.

Atlas's flagship product, long-term full-time wet leases, now only accounts for around 24 aircraft. To offset the drop in demand, Atlas is working to find new sources of revenue for minimum investment.

Besides offering fractional wet leases, Atlas is also stepping into the scheduled business through Polar, which was sold at a low price by GE Capital Aviation Services. The fractional programme has kicked off with hubs in Europe and South America, while the scheduled operation is now limited mainly to Asia, using Polar's coveted Tokyo Narita slots.

Express package carrier TNT has signed as a partner in the fractional programme, providing some regional capacity from its hub in Liege, Belgium, with aircraft as large as Airbus A300Fs. Atlas sees a role for aircraft sized between an A300 and a 747 and would prefer to do this flying itself.

Source: Flight International