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JUL 5
Vol. 39, No. 7A
El Al ceases 747 freighter ops, looks to AirBridge and ASL for charters 
On 30 June, an El Al-operated 747-400F (26563) landed at Ben Gurion Airport (TLV) on completion of a final commercial flight that originated in Liege, Belgium (LGG). El Al yesterday confirmed that it is retiring the freighter after nine years in service [FAT 005038].

Despite the retirement of the Israel-based carrier’s only freighter, El Al remains nonetheless committed to its cargo operation. El Al plans to cooperate with Russia-based AirBridgeCargo and Ireland-based ASL Aviation Group to replace the capacity of the outgoing freighter, and held an event in Israel earlier this week to celebrate the new ACMI partnerships, according to a statement from the carrier. In recent weeks, El Al has been utilizing the 747-400F for daily flights between Belgium and Israel, according to FlightRadar24. Those flights are expected to continue, and long-term additional flights may be chartered, including direct connections from Tel Aviv to Moscow.

While cooperation between El Al and AirBridgeCargo isn’t unexpected because of the Russian carrier’s large fleet of 747Fs, ASL’s role is not yet clear. ABC currently operates a total of eighteen 747Fs; four 747-400ERFs, two 747-400Fs and twelve 747-8Fs, while only one ASL-affiliate carrier, ASL Airlines Belgium operates 747-400ERFs – and just two. Previously, ASL Belgium operated a total of five 747-400ERFs, but three of them have this year been transferred to Cargolux.

After the 747-400ERFs were transferred to Cargolux, an ASL Group spokesperson confirmed to Cargo Facts that 747s would be leaving the ASL Airlines Belgium fleet, but added, “ASL is well into a program to replace these aircraft with similarly capable aircraft, and will continue to serve the long-haul market.” ASL did not go into specifics regarding how the Group intends to replace the production 747Fs, but as it stands now, the two 747-400ERFs are a bit of an outlier in ASL’s operations. The majority of ASL’s fleet is comprised of regional feeder aircraft and 737Fs, and recent orders point to continued reliance on narrowbody freighters, such as the 737-800BCF.  

It, therefore, would not be impossible to imagine ASL cooperating with a 747F operator as it looks to replace the aircraft now entering the Cargolux fleet. Whether that means acquiring “similarly capable” aircraft to operate on its own AOC or ACMI-leasing in additional capacity remains to be seen. For now, we can’t help but wonder if there’s more to the ABC, ASL and El Al partnership than meets the eye.
Connect Cargo becomes Brazil’s latest freighter airline
Brazilian startup Connect Cargo has completed its Part 121 certification with ANAC, Brazil’s National Civil Aviation Agency, and has been granted its AOC, paving the way for the launch of scheduled commercial operations. The company will base its two PEMCO-converted 737-400Fs (27087, ex-Malaysia Airlines, and 26605, ex-Japan Transocean Air) at Recife (REC) and fly them on domestic routes.

Unit 27087 operated a series of training and route-proving flights last week as part of the certification program, flying to Sao Paulo (GRU), Brasilia (BSB), Manaus (MAO) and Santarem (STM) before returning to REC. Unit 26605, which had previously been temporarily stored at Sao Jose dos Campos (SJK) after conversion and prior to the launch, flew over to REC last week.

Connect Cargo told Cargo Facts that, while it doesn’t yet have plans to add more 737 freighters this year, it will be introducing a 767-200F to the fleet by the end of the third quarter. The carrier will fly the 767 on domestic routes as well as potentially to other South American points. Connect Cargo has already been chartering twice-weekly 747-400F flights out of Hong Kong (HKG) that fly to GRU via Miami (MIA). The company is aiming to add an extra weekly frequency on the route and hopes that this will boost volumes on its own-operated network around the country.

Flynn retiring as Atlas CEO, with Dietrich to assume the role in 2020

This week, Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings announced that President and Chief Executive Officer William Flynn will retire from the company at the end of this year. Flynn will become chairman of the board upon his retirement.  

Atlas’ current Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, John Dietrich, will take Flynn’s place. Dietrich has been appointed president of the company effective immediately and will assume Flynn’s CEO role upon his retirement. The current Chairman of the Board, Robert Agnew, will become the board’s lead independent director when Flynn steps into his new role.   

Under Flynn’s leadership, Atlas Air has seen significant growth among its subsidiary carriers and its freighter leasing arm, Titan Aviation Holdings. The company has successfully capitalized on growing e-commerce operations as one of the primary operators of Amazon Air carriers, the companies’ carriers were flying forty-three 767Fs on routes consistent with the Amazon Air network in December. Atlas has since also begun operating Amazon’s new fleet of 737-800BCFs on lease from GECAS through its Southern Air subsidiary. 
Do ASL, West Atlantic developments mean shedding of European AOCs ahead?
Will the changes in ownership at West Atlantic and ASL Aviation lead to some shedding of AOCs and other changes in the European contract airline landscape?

Following the acquisition of West Atlantic by Spain-based Swiftair parent LUSAT, the combined group will have five airlines in Spain, Greece, Sweden and the UK, operating a combined active fleet of about eighty EMB-120s, ATP, ATRs, CRJs, 737s, 757s and 767s. Meanwhile, ASL Aviation Group, which was acquired by Star Capital in June, has a total of four European airlines in Belgium, Ireland, France and Hungary, plus stakes in Malaysia-based K-Mile and South Africa-based Safair. In Europe alone, the Group operates approximately 100 aircraft from ATRs up to 737s, 757s, A300s, A330s and 747s.

How many European AOCs do these companies actually need? There are definitely some changes afoot in Europe. Earlier this week, The Loadstar reported that Star Capital is considering divesting the French branch of ASL, ASL Airlines France, which the publication reported French forwarder Bansard may acquire.

Other considerations include the recent memorandum of understanding ASL signed with Boeing for a firm order of ten 737-800BCFs and purchase rights for an additional ten, as well as the appointment of Charles Graham as chairman. Graham was previously CEO of DHL Aviation and active in the aircraft leasing business. At the same time, we see Amazon gearing up for a potential wide-scale expansion of its air network in Europe. Stay tuned! 
Recent freighter aircraft transactions: 
Boeing delivered a 777F (40682) to FedEx [FAT 005035]. The aircraft was ferried from the Boeing factory in Everett (PAE) to the FedEx World Hub in Memphis (MEM). 

Boeing delivered a 747-8F (64262) to UPS [FAT 005036]. The aircraft flew from Paine Field (PAE) to the UPS Worldport in Louisville (SDF). 

An A330-300 (781, ex-Shanghai Airlines) was ferried to Dresden (DRS), ahead of expected conversion by EFW into freighter configuration [FAT 005037]. The aircraft had previously been in storage at Teruel (TEV). 
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