Polet Airlines, the Russian heavy cargo specialist, is considering buying A330s to expand its passenger and bellyhold cargo business, according to Anatoly Karpov, president of the carrier.

The airline, which has suffered in the economic crisis, began passenger operations in 2003, with Antonov and Airbus shorthaul aircraft, acquiring its first IL-96 in 2009.

“The operation of the IL-96 has brought a good experience and widened our client base for passenger and bellyhold cargo,” said Mr Karpov. “In 2010, fuel costs exploded yet again. At that point we were operating profitable flights to and from China with good loads in both directions. Unfortunately, the ever-increasing cost of fuel began to make these flights non-viable.

“We are now looking at the A330 for our future needs,” he added. “We must achieve a 30 to 40% fuel cost reduction and believe this can only be achieved with a twin-engine aircraft.”

He also underlined the importance of freighters to the logistics industry. “We know that market conditions for freighters are very difficult, and there is much talk in the press about the end of the freighter as a cargo tool. But I believe that there are possibilities for developing the outsize and humanitarian business as well as the possibility of controlling the fuel price.”

It has been no secret that even operators of the specialist AN-124 have found the past year challenging, as demand has dwindled and rates have fallen – in some cases, by as much as 40%. The high costs and lack of demand have also cast doubt on plans by the Volga Dnepr Group to revive production of the 120-tonne payload aircraft. With the Russian government withdrawing the option of financial support for a new AN-124, it seems unlikely that sufficient funds would be available to restart production – especially with limited demand.

Nevertheless, Volga Dnepr president Alexei Isaikin continues to believe that a new AN-124 can be developed, and the plan is expected to be discussed further in September.

Polet also said it had faith in continuing demand for large freighters. “From our operational base in Cyprus, we are putting enormous effort into the worldwide market for outsize and heavy cargo,” said Mr Karpov. He noted that Polet was continuing to win government and military shipments, as well as oil and gas field cargo.

Russian media reported in May that Polet had told its customers that it would stop operating its Il-96-440T freighters, owing to weak demand and poor rates. The airline’s finances have been under pressure and the airlines is thought to be selling its 51% stake in the operator of Voronezh International Airport.

But Mr Karpov expressed optimism for the future. “I believe the market and the world economy will rise again, but we must all be patient and work hard to find new customers and applications for our freighters.”


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