One moment Austrian Airlines’cargo department was boasting of itsexcellent links between Asia and thegrowing market of Eastern Europe.The next moment, its parent carrierannounced that the Asian half of thatequation is to be severely curtailed.
From this year, a whole swathe oflong-haul routes have been binnedat the carrier, which is retiring theremaining four A330 aircraft from itsfleet. At the same time the carrier willadd a fourth and final 777, and, alongwith six 767s, these aircraft will be thewhole of its long-haul fleet.
The move is a necessary one: sinceits merger with Lauda Air in 2000, Austrianhas had a famously diverse fleet.But the decision also marks a retrenchmentfrom the Asian market.
The casualties included flights toSydney and Melbourne, the only directflights to Australia from continentalEurope, and when these went in March2007, they took stops in Singapore andKuala Lumpur with them.
January 2007 also saw the ending ofservices to Shanghai, though Austrianwill continue to serve Beijing. Otherwise,its Asian network will consist ofsix weekly flights to Tokyo and dailyflights to Bangkok, which will at leastbe upgraded to a cargo-friendly 777.
Austrian will also continue to serveMumbai five times a week and Delhidaily, but its route to Kathmandu isbeing axed from May, and plans toserve Chennai and Karachi have beenshelved. April will also see services toPhuket, Mauritius, Colombo and Maleended.
All of this leaves Austrian’s executivevice president cargo, Franz Zöchbauer,in a tricky position. The carrier sawrespectable growth of 7.6 percent intonnage in 2006, while freight tonnekilometres were up 6.6 percent.
But Asian traffic to Eastern Europewas a major engine of that growth.Though overall cargo capacity for theairline will only be cut by 10 percent,it is the 10 percent that matters. "If themother company can’t provide us withcapacity, we will have to find it somewhereelse," says Zöchbauer.
One possibility that Austrian alreadyexploits is taking space on otherfreighter operators into Vienna. Itshares space on EVA freighters fromTaipei twice a week, and also on Emirates’A310 freighter from Dubai. Onebit of good news is that the investmentby Vienna airport in a sparkling newcargo centre, which opened at the startof 2006, has helped attract these Asianfreighter operators to the airport.
Austrian also has a leased AN-12freighter of its own that it flies to Kiev inthe Ukraine. Launched with one weeklyflight in 2003, this has gone fromstrength to strength and was boostedto five-weekly at the end of 2006.
Otherwise in Eastern Europe, Austrianserves 44 destinations in 23 countries.As many of these flights are smallaircraft with restricted cargo loads, italso has 18 road feeder service routesto 54 destinations.
– Peter Conway