Air France-KLM believes a strong rebound in its air cargo business over the last 12 months vindicates its shift in strategy to put more focus on utilising belly space on its passenger and combi aircraft.

The SkyTeam carrier group posted a full-year operating profit of €69 million ($98.6 million) in its cargo business - a swing of more than €500 million on the previous year. This together with improved profits in its maintenance business and the wiping out of almost all its passenger business losses helped the group post an operating profit of €122 million for the year to March 2011. This sharply improves on losses of €1.28 billion in the previous year.

"It completely validates the strategy to fill the belly space of the passenger and combi aircraft," Air France-KLM chief executive Pierre-Henri Gourgeon said of its cargo performance during its annual results press conference in Paris.

The group has reduced its full freighter fleet from 25 to 15 aircraft and it now accounts for just a third of its overall capacity - with the majority comprised of belly and combi aircraft space.

Air France-KLM had initially been targeting a halving of the €436 million cargo losses it incurred in the 2009/10 financial year. But in a strong recovery year for air freight traffic, KLM chief executive Peter Hartman, noting the carrier boosted revenues without adding capacity, said: "We returned to the black [in cargo] a year ahead of our expectations."

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news