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The Italian market, which has long wished for its very own freighter operator following the demise of Cargoitalia almost a decade ago, is set to see an all-cargo operator launch shortly.
Aliscargo, to be based at Milan Malpensa, is in the final stages of getting its AOC after its first aircraft – a passenger 777-200ER – delivers at the weekend.
A second aircraft will arrive shortly after, and the airline expects to begin charter services as soon as possible, likely to north-east Asia and the US.
Discussions on launching a new Italian airline began pre-Covid, said Ulrich Ogiermann, the carrier’s new chief commercial officer.
“We were hoping to secure real freighters, but we got overwhelmed by Covid and the demand. The market is empty of freighters; there are none to buy, so getting these aircraft was our only chance to get started.”
The first aircraft, which is nearly 20 years old, was operated most recently by LatAm Chile, but has been stored by Boeing in Phoenix since November 2019, according to Planespotters. It will operate without seats with a 55-tonne payload – until a suitable freighter can be found.
Mr Ogiermann conceded that passenger freighters needed relatively high market freight rates to operate.
“There is a certain rate threshold you need. You can’t operate at ‘normal’ pre-Covid rates; you need a rate that’s slightly higher, otherwise it’s economically not feasible. But I am not sure what exactly the premium is.”
That would imply a bet on the current market staying in a similar position to where it is now.
“It’s very hard to tell when normal traffic will come back. I think a lot of business travel will disappear. Travel budgets have been cut and, what with prices and emissions, I think the days of flying to Hong Kong for a meeting are over.
“That will make freighters a safer bet, going forward. Widebodies are fantastic aircraft but to make international widebodies work you need a passenger mix.”
Aliscargo will launch with charter flights, which will give it flexibility as it applies for scheduled services, which it hopes will begin within a couple of months. Otherwise, the airline is “ready to go”, said Mr Ogiermann. “Next week, when the aircraft will be on the ground, is a big step forward, when we hope the AOC will be formalised.”
Italy, with its strong export market, has long-clamoured for an all-cargo airline. Aliscargo is owned by the Leali family, founders of Air Dolomiti and luxury hotel owners.
“The family has many investments in its portfolio,” added Mr Ogiermann. “We are optimistic, but there will be risks.”
He expects the ‘backbone’ of imports to be e-commerce, although not the only focus, and the carrier is in discussion with Chinese companies to support that.
“While the Italian market has always been strong, it has some catching up to do in terms of e-commerce, which has had a strong boost from Covid.”
He noted that Cargolux Italia remained in the market, but added: “We are not following the competition closely. There is room for more capacity, so we are jumping in.”
Since financiers pulled the plug on Cargoitalia in 2012, only airline subsidiaries Cargolux Italia and SW Italia have operated out of Italy. The personnel are similar: Aliscargo CEO Francesco Rebaudo has been chief executive of both SW Italia and Cargolux Italia, as well as MD of Cargoitalia.
Chair is Fulvio Gismondi, a professor of financial mathematics, and former partner and chief executive at Pwc.
Mr Ogiermann is well known to the industry as former head of Qatar Airways Cargo, as well as Cargolux and, more recently, Cargologic Germany.