Dubai: Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways is looking to dramatically increase its cargo fleet as freight demand continues to rise.
Martin Drew, senior vice president of sales and freight at Etihad, said several of the carrier’s Boeing 777-300s were “good candidates” for the conversion to freight. “We are also evaluating the Airbus A350 freighter, which will be launched in 2025, as well as the Boeing 777x freighter as well. “
“There have been limited options in terms of freighters. Boeing has dominated this space – it’s good that Airbus has the A330 freighter, but the 350 freighter will also be a very good plane, ”Drew said on the sidelines of the Dubai Airshow.
“It’s encouraging to see that there are more conversion options coming as well because that’s the key,” he added.
Demand for freight has skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic as more people go online to purchase everything from essentials to tech gadgets. For Etihad and its industry peers, the aviation segment helped offset some of the decline in passenger revenue.
Global freight demand, measured in freight tonne-kilometers, increased 7.7% from August 2019, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said in a recent report.
“This pandemic has really demonstrated the value of freighters and there is a serious shortage if you look at the projected growth in air freight going forward,” Drew said.
The demand will remain
Supply constraints began when passenger planes, which carried around half of the world’s cargo, were grounded overnight last year. With growing demand for e-commerce and ocean freight operators also facing a supply shortage, current levels of air freight demand may be here to stay.
“There are a lot of passenger planes that have been reactivated, but during this pandemic you have had a number of airlines downsizing and unfortunately a number of airlines have gone out of business,” Drew said.
Etihad’s executive added that even if passenger demand returned to May 2019 levels, there would not be enough capacity to meet demand.
“When you look at the incredible growth of e-commerce, the persistent constraints on the ocean freight side of the business, we will continue to see an imbalance between demand and supply from a capacity perspective,” said Drew.
This means that the air freight market will be very strong, he added.
Qatari World Cup
The FIFA World Cup in Qatar could potentially be a huge opportunity for freight operators looking to transport cargo to the Gulf State.
“There is a huge demand for freight because of all of the materials needed to build the stadiums and everything,” Drew said. “When you see this huge influx of people for the World Cup, then without a doubt, in terms of perishables and everything, you’re going to see a huge increase in demand for these moves.”
Drew said the sporting event will also be very positive for Etihad’s passenger activities. “People are probably going to settle in Abu Dhabi or Dubai and then commute,” Drew said.