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Next year the Volga-Dnepr group and its partners will introduce two new aircraft types into its fleet, adding to its “cargo supermarket” business model.

The group’s main shareholder, Alexei Isaykin, said a year ago he was setting up a German airline – but as yet Cargologic Germany still has no AOC.

But, said Robert van de Weg, the group’s vp marketing and sales, there has been no delay: “It is normal for it to take this long. There is a lot of due diligence and checks.”

Volga-Dnepr has tried Germany before, with its 49% share in ill-fated AirCargo Germany, which was seen off, at least in part, sources suggested at the time, by Lufthansa Cargo.

This time it’ll be different. Volga-Dnepr Group will have a strategic partnership with the new airline, which, instead of eating into Lufthansa’s long-haul market, is to develop an intra-Europe express business.

“The scope of the airline will be intra-Europe e-commerce, using 737s,” said Mr van de Weg.

“This is a market niche we believe is interesting and growing, and that’s the long-term vision. It’s not just for two or three airplanes, but we have to be pragmatic and flexible. We don’t have to commit to huge numbers unless the market justifies that.”

But the former Cargolux executive, where the fleet was famously kept simple with 747s only, argued: “It’s not a big departure, marketing 737s – we have them with Atran, [a Russian subsidiary with three] and we also have AN-124s, IL-76s and B747s.

“The group and its partners are different from a monotype airline like Cargolux; it’s a cargo supermarket, we come with various options. Volga-Dnepr and its partners deploy a wider palette of airplanes, but you are often dealing with the same customers.”

He explained that moving into the express and e-commerce market would not be a big departure from the group’s normal activities, as the customer base, which would include integrators, would be the same. And he was not concerned over the competitive marketplace.

AirBridgeCargo (ABC) is also expected to get a new aircraft type as soon as next year. Volga-Dnepr’s announcement at the Farnborough Air Show this year, for a letter of intent (LoI) with Boeing for 29 777Fs, was greeted with much scepticism in the market, which cited other unfulfilled LoIs by the group. But Mr van de Weg said that while ABC may not necessarily purchase new aircraft, it would begin to operate 777Fs.

“We have to decide and negotiate what happens, but it is our clear intention that 777Fs will enter the group, most likely at ABC in the fall of 2019.

“We are always looking at other options too, such as 777 conversions.”

If all goes to plan, Volga-Dnepr Group should have a significant fleet structure, as early as next year, boasting AN-124s, IL-76s, 737s, 747s and 777s, while its strategic partners, for which ABC markets capacity, will have 747s and 737s. It’s the kind of fleet and reach that could make companies such as Atlas sit up and take notice.

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