Atlas tie-up will see the Liège-based European carrier developing US lessor's long-haul fractional partnership scheme

TNT is finalising a massive expansion plan which will see the European express package carrier  develop its base in Belgium into an intercontinental freight hub and double its cargo volumes over the next year. The airline will acquire up to five Boeing 747-400 Freighters from Atlas Air as part of the US cargo lessor's European "fractional lease" air-freight programme.

"We want to benefit from long-haul cargo volumes via the Atlas joint-venture," says TNT Airways managing director Niky Terzakis. He adds talks are under way with several airlines about joining Atlas's Liège-based, long-haul partnership scheme, which TNT will develop. Alitalia, British Airways, Cargolux and Garuda are lined up for the programme.

TNT Airways operates a 747-400F wet-leased from Atlas Air from Liège to Johannesburg and Lagos. TNT's core work is its nightly network to 54 European destinations from Liège, supporting its logistics/ express parcels business. This is flown by 20 of its own aircraft and additional wet-leased freighters.

Applications have been filed to serve 14 destinations outside Europe - mainly in Africa and Asia. Terzakis says that if all goes to plan, TNT will have five 747-400Fs on dry lease from Atlas by the beginning of next year. "Belgian certification of the 747-400F is under way, to enable us to put it on to the TNT AOC [air operators' certificate], and fly it with our own pilots," he adds. This process is due to be completed by April, and TNT will recruit 125 additional flightcrew.

The five 125t payload 747 freighters will see TNT Airways' cargo volumes expand from last year's 50,000t to over 90,000t over the next 12 months, says Terzakis.

Atlas already has one 747-400F based at Liège operating to North and South America, and Terzakis says Atlas plans to base two or three more 747s there as its programme expands, potentially increasing the two airlines' entire Liège based 747 fleet to nine.

Additional reporting by Herman de Wulf in Brussels

Source: Flight International