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Oil price gains saw the Russian rouble rise against the dollar yesterday, after a week in which it nearly fell to the lows seen at the end of last year, giving Russian companies more hope of stability.

The crisis has led to foreign manufacturers halting sales in Russia, including hi-tech and automotive makers, unable to value their goods correctly as the rouble continued to tumble.

And airlines have been finding the economy challenging, forcing the government this week to pledge to subsidise domestic routes.

But despite this big question mark over the Russian economy, the country’s scheduled all-cargo airline remains upbeat.

“We haven’t seen much affect on tonnage, but the situation has created nervousness,” Denis Ilin, executive vice president of AirBridgeCargo Airlines told The Loadstar.

“We have had to make sure it’s business as usual, and I hope our customers have seen that. The uncertainty will continue this year, unfortunately, but it hasn’t had a negative impact on our business.”

The trucking market, he said, had been “seriously” impacted, with cheaper goods and perishable imports – many affected by Russian sanctions – taking the brunt. Mr Ilin acknowledged that the flower market, in which ABC is strong, could feel the effect of the currency crisis.

“The impact of the rouble problem is the $1m question. We have looked at several scenarios. Our hub is in Moscow and, yes, it does matter how the Russian economy behaves. But it will only affect 15-20% of our volumes. Our focus has been on Asia-Europe, and this year it will be to North America.”

ABC is also, however, looking at how it can gain from the domestic market.It is looking at a “standalone” project with 737s, operated by its Atran subsidiary, and is conducting a feasibility study with Russian Post.

“Domestic services require long-haul transport – but the volumes aren’t great. One of our attempts to make it more economic is by ABC doing double stops in Russia,” he explained.

But for all the concerns about Russia, ABC appears more interested in the rest of the world, starting with North America. It will launch Los Angeles services this summer, via either Atlanta or Chicago, and it is also eyeing the transpacific market.

“We have fifth freedom rights to fly from Shanghai to the US via Anchorage, and some clients have asked us for it.”

AirBridgeCargo airlines air freight

Denis Ilin

ABC has not yet used its these transpacific rights, preferring instead to fly via Moscow. “It’s not as direct or economic, but you can also pick up Russian and EU cargo,” said Mr Ilin. “It helps us to mitigate ups and downs in the market.”

He said the carrier’s main strategy for the year was to respond quickly to market changes, while ensuring that service quality remained high, with an 85% on-time performance.

“Last year it took us just three weeks to open a new station and we will be like this in 2015 too. There is a balance between being stable and conservative – yet opportunistic.”

For that reason, he said, ABC was keeping a close eye on the US west coast port congestion.

“We felt it in November. It’s not exactly our market, but we did divert some flights to the US. It didn’t play a significant role in revenues, but it did help. We shall see how that continues – we’re on standby.”

Next month the carrier will receive another 747-400ERF, an ex-KLM/Martinair aircraft which is having test flights this week in Amsterdam. And in September the airline will take another 747-8F.

“That is the minimum,” said Mr Ilin. “We might be more aggressive and take another two airframes this year. I see the business. But we want to be 100% sure we can perform.”

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