Kevin O'Toole/LONDON

The UK's Hunting group has completed the last major piece in the year-long dismantling of its loss-making aviation division, with the sale of the Hunting Cargo Airlines business. It has gone to Belgian shipping group CMB, which bid jointly with South African freight carrier Safair.

The two companies paid £8.8 million ($14 million) for the cargo airline, taking the total of Hunting's disposals to date above the £40 million mark.

Although the airline unit had posted sales of around £38 million last year, largely through its key contract with the DHL Worldwide Express parcels business, it had continued to turn in a small loss and did not fit with Hunting's concentration on its core defence, contract services and oil businesses.

CMB, which will take the lead in the acquisition, says that returning the unit to profitability is its first objective. The Belgian transport group already has links to Safair through the South African airline's parent.

Hunting Cargo will continue to operate as an independent contract cargo carrier under its existing management, but is due to be renamed, say the new owners. The airline, which was registered controversially in Dublin five years ago to allow it to fly under an Irish flag, operates a freighter fleet of seven Boeing 727-200s and five Airbus A300 B4s. Five retired Lockheed Electras are now parked at its East Midlands Airport base pending a sale.

The cargo airline is the last of the major sectors of Hunting's aviation division to find a new home, coming close on the heels of the sale of the interiors and airmotive units at the start of this year and the closure of the East Midlands maintenance centre, which is widely expected to be acquired by British Midland.

Other civil aviation units, including avionics accessories and flight inspection, went in mid-1997 following the earlier announcement that the division would be wound up. Only a couple of smaller businesses now remain for sale, including overseas operations in Canada and Zimbabwe.

The Hunting Contract Services business, which provides outsourced services for the UK forces, and the Hunting Technical Support recruitment arm are still within the group, but have moved to the growing defence division.

Source: Flight International