Reversible freighters tap into slot-constrained conversion market
The race is on to get cheaper, alternative freighters into what has been a capacity-hungry ...
Amid a worsening Covid-crisis in India, vital medical supplies and e-commerce cargo are driving volume growth at domestic express airline Blue Dart Aviation.
MD Tulsi Mirchandaney told The Loadstar: “We’ve seen optimal utilisation of our Boeing 757-200 fleet on scheduled and charter operations, with uptake by pharmaceutical and medical supplies, as well as e-commerce demand.”
Indeed, in its Q4 results the firm achieved 33% year-on-year revenue growth and DHL-owned parent Blue Dart Express said more e-commerce shipments had been sent by air instead of road.
Freighter volumes achieved “significant growth”, compared with 2019, said Ms Mirchandaney, and added that the airline’s support for the government’s Lifeline Udan initiative had also helped boost volumes.
However, she added, the air express sector was still recovering from the effects of last year’s lockdown.
“High fixed costs remain,” she explained. “The depreciation of the rupee impacts our lease and maintenance costs, and the commodity mix has changed.
“For example, while certain segments like e-commerce and pharma have grown, the second [Covid] wave has again set back other industries that were on the path to recovery.
“Aviation turbine fuel is now back to the pre-Covid levels, which is the biggest hit – for an express airline, it accounts for close to 40% of direct operating cost. Unlike passenger airlines, where excess belly capacity is used for incremental revenue, freighters are the mainstay of our revenue.”
Blue Dart is also seeing growing competition from domestic airlines bereft of passengers carrying cargo in cabins or moving into the freighter market.
Ms Mirchandaney claimed Blue Dart’s 757-200Fs were its “market differentiator”, ensuring the airline was a “trade facilitator to the nation” during India’s first lockdown, operating over 100 charter flights to Guangzhou, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Dhaka and Yangon.
Ms Mirchandaney said: “As a domestic operator, in order to meet regulatory requirements for international operations, we upgraded the avionics on our fleet within a short period, under very constrained conditions, to make the operations possible.”