Contrary to much speculation in recent weeks, the Air France-KLM-Martinair group will retain its all-maindeck subsidiary Martinair, albeit with a drastically reduced fleet. Over the next two years Martinair Cargo’s fleet will drop dramatically from the current 10 aircraft to just three. All five old MD11F in the fleet will be retired progressively starting shortly and ending in 2016 and in addition, a B747-400ERF, which is currently leased to Etihad Airways, will be returned to the leasing company at the end of its contract by year-end.
The planned fleet reduction to eight freighters at Schiphol by 2015 was no longer enough, said Air France-KLM Cargo CEO Erik Varwijk in April this year, when the group announced it was reviewing all cargo operations with “all options on the table,” at that time. What the group ultimately settled on was a minimal main deck fleet, which it hopes to operate profitably in certain niche markets alongside the group’s ample belly capacity. The growing belly capacity from the passenger side along with the freighter surgery will see the main deck contribution sliced from 30 per cent to just fifteen per cent.
From 2016 Martinair will operate three B747-400ERFs with one 25 year old B747-400BCF provisionally held in reserve. The BCF is currently flying with KLM partner Kenya Airways and will likely return to the lessor when its lease expires in 2018. Air France Cargo will continue to operate its two B777-200F’s with the resulting group fleet consisting of five (plus one in reserve) freighters. And of course the carrier group will still have its fifteen KLM B747-400 combos, each which has a cargo capacity of around 35 tonnes. The three cargo brands within the group, Air France, KLM and Martinair will remain for the time being.
Varwijk said the action was necessary in the face of continuing losses on the cargo side of the carrier’s business, saying: “Half of the loss of over €200 million last year accounted for the cargo fleet,” he said. In the past six months the operating loss was reduced by 21 per cent to €79 million, against a loss of €100 million in the first six months of 2013.
Air France-KLM Cargo has over the past six years, experimented with various scenarios for the cargo fleet, including the sale of Martinair, operating with a partner and replacement of the old cargo fleet with modern freighters. All of these options ultimately were not realistic, or did not produce the desired result results, said Varwijk.
The reduction of the freighter fleet will mean surplus staff, all of which will be offered alternative jobs within the group, including transfers to the low cost offspring Transavia. This step was obtained key mutual agreement between the AF-KL-MP Management and the trade unions concerned through discussions at a very early stage, emphasised the AF-KLM management.