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All-cargo airlines should be able to fend off competition from belly-based rivals by being opportunistic and flexible, according to AirBridgeCargo. And the opportunities are increasing as maindeck capacity leaves the market.

Dismissing concerns of widebody overcapacity and far-flung, high frequency passenger networks, Denis Ilin, executive vice president of the scheduled Russian carrier, said that retain freighter operators a significant advantage.

“I can offer something that a belly can’t,” he said. “Yes, the 777 has good tonnage but there are things we can fight. We can offer a direct service. If someone has a 777 going from Shanghai to Frankfurt, but a customer wants 80 tonnes to go to Hannover – we will do it, while a passenger airline never would.”

He said that ABC had been quick to react to market changes in 2014, a policy which the carrier would continue this year. “We added services to Charles de Gaulle, Leipzig, Basel and Munich. It took us just three weeks to open one station. We are very quick to react, and passenger services just can’t. It’s a significant advantage over bellies. Where there is direct competition between maindeck and bellies – that freight I can definitely win.

“Nothing can be flown by a 777 which can’t be flown by a 747-8F – but that is not true the other way round.”

He added that maindeck competition exiting the market was another benefit. “We are closely monitoring capacity dropping out and it gives us an opportunity to step in and replace players who quit.”

Mr Ilin noted that Amsterdam, where a slimming down Martinair is the incumbent, is a significant gateway for the carrier. “We are also looking at Helsinki, maybe from late January. The demand is there as Finnair is slowing down. We are definitely noticing maindeck reduction.”

ABC, which famously invested in troubled Air Cargo Germany, has also not ruled out further partnerships and admitted a previous interest in Martinair.

“I’ve always said yes to legal, win-win partnerships. We are open to any partnerships with anyone which bring value to our clients. We offered to interline with Martinair on complementary services. But we have no ongoing discussions with it at the moment.”

Mr Ilin added that the challenge was getting the right balance between reacting quickly to market changes and ensuring stability and good quality service. The carrier is soon to take delivery of an ex-KLM 747-400ERF and is due to take on another 747-8F in September.

“We might be more aggressive – we could take on two more aircraft as we do see the business. But we want to be 100% sure we can perform.”

ABC aims to ensure all freight is delivered across its network via its hub within 48 hours. “We don’t sell that – but we do deliver it. It keeps load factors high and it is the only way to win over the competition, to maintain and add to the service standard. It keeps clients with us,” Mr Ilin said.

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