Max Kinglsey-Jones/LONDON

Airfreight Express (AFX), the UK's latest all-cargo carrier, is gearing up for expansion as it prepares to triple its Boeing 747 freighter fleet.

The London Heathrow-based carrier launched operations last September following the receipt of its air operator's certificate. It is operating a single weekly scheduled trip between Heathrow and New York Kennedy with its single 747-200F. The 108t-payload, Pratt & Whitney JT9D-70A-powered freighter is leased from Boeing, and is one of three ex-FedEx examples earmarked for the carrier.

"We will receive our second 747 by early March and aim to have the third in service by May," says Philip Bowles, founder and chairman of the privately owned and funded airline. The introduction of a second aircraft will allow a second weekly Kennedy rotation from Heathrow to be added, while a service from Manchester will begin in April, says Bowles.

AFX has been undertaking ad hoc charters and aircraft, crew, maintenance and insurance (ACMI) leases to keep the 747 busy. Customers include Lufthansa, BMW and the United Nations, with the aircraft operating to South Africa, China, Japan and Australia. Utilisation is running at about 220h a month, with the 747 averaging a 60-70% load factor.

The airline was set up by Bowles and is funded by other companies within the chairman's group. His aim is to establish AFX as a scheduled freight carrier and he is working to grow that side of the business. "Once we have the third aircraft, we will consolidate," he says.

Acquisition of new 747-400s is the goal of the carrier, which employs around 110 people.

AFX has route licences to operate to the USA from Scotland's Prestwick Airport. This may be initiated as a stop on the return leg of the airline's Kennedy-Heathrow sector. A dedicated transatlantic service from Prestwick will follow "if the loads are good", says Bowles.

In the USA there has been a proliferation of supplemental cargo carriers such as Atlas Air and Gemini Air Cargo, which operate ACMI services for carriers throughout the world.

Bowles says that while a non-US carrier can wet-lease a freighter from a US cargo carrier, US legislation does not allow US airlines to wet-lease cargo capacity from foreign carriers. "We want reciprocity. The current situation is unfair," says Bowles.

Source: Flight International