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Bluebird Nordic’s new chief executive, Audrone Keinyte, told The Loadstar she has big ambitions for the cargo ACMI market and plans to expand capacity and add more widebody freighters.
In December, the specialist freight operator, based out of Reykjavík, Iceland, signed lease agreements for three 777-300ER aircraft, with plans to go through passenger-to-freight conversions in 2024.
“If everything goes according to plan, we might add more widebodies to the Bluebird Nordic fleet,” Ms Keinyte said.
The three 777s join the fleet at an interesting period. Along with the A330, both types have seen a drop in value and an accelerating divergence between market and base values, according to aviation analysts at IBA.
Data from IBA’s freighter market analysis in February, shows that a 10-year-old 777-300ER is worth $34.5m, down 41% from its $58.9m valuation two years ago. Demand for converting 777s is high and any open spots for conversions will be quickly filled. Industry estimates suggest the process for a 777 can take up to about 130 days.
Two of the three Bluebird 777s can carry 60 tonnes of belly freight, but once fully converted the capacity will reach 100 tonnes. With this investment, Bluebird hopes to take a greater slice of the widebody ACMI cargo market.
The 777s will join a growing fleet of 737 Classics and 737-800 converted freighters. Bluebird recently took delivery of a second 737-800BCF from AviaAM Leasing and Ms Keinyte is keen to see the fleet grow to between 15 and 18 aircraft this year.
“Looking further ahead, our plan is to continue expanding our cargo fleet and to have 25 737-800s by the end of 2024,” she said.
The 737-800 carries four tonnes more than the older 737-400, while also offering an extra pallet position on the main deck. It’s likely Bluebird will be keen to capitalise on the -800’s greener credentials as the fleet expands.
Bluebird Nordic is a member of the Avia Solutions group (also parent to Chapman Freeborn and Magma Aviation, among others) and offers scheduled and chartered freight operations from Iceland and several points in Europe, including Liège in Belgium and East Midlands in the UK as freight hubs.
The airline transports a wide variety of shipments, including fresh fruits, perishables, pharmaceuticals, industrial machinery, animals and dangerous goods. The airline also works in cooperation with operators like Aer Lingus Cargo, Emirates Sky Cargo, UPS Air Cargo and others to achieve global reach.
In her new role, Ms Keinyte wants to “effectively develop the potential of the company and steer it to a leading position” in the cargo market.
“Customers remain a strong part of our main goals and I am excited to continue the strong partnerships with our long-term clients who trust us and our services. These partnerships allow us to constantly improve services and find ways to fulfil the needs of our clients.”
Looking ahead at the cargo ACMI market, and where she sees the greatest opportunities and challenges, Ms Keinyte believes this sector will continue to see gains derived through the pandemic, and the next phase of development will see the fleet expansion programme continue and new opportunities for additional services or options to the market.
Unlike the passenger ACMI sector, which is challenged by seasonality, Ms Keinyte believes this is not much of an issue for freight ACMI operators.
“For us, the only major challenge we can see is market saturation. However, considering the current course of the cargo market and global factors, we do not see this happening any time soon.”
To hear more about future demand and capacity supply in air cargo, listen to this Loadstar Podcast clip of Glyn Hughes, director general of TIACA.