air cargo © Ifeelstock
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CMA CGM is strengthening its position in the air freight market with a CMI deal on two ex-Qatar Airways A330-200 freighters, according to sources close to the company.

The shipping line owner of Ceva has signed Air Belgium to operate the aircraft and has reportedly also set up a subsidiary, CMA CGM Air Cargo.

One senior aviation source indicated that the aircraft type would be difficult to operate sustainably for general cargo.

“The real question here is whether these aircraft are for Ceva – and whether it can make the A330F work for general cargo. This aircraft is not viable for standard air freight – only carriers like DHL and express companies want an A330F.

“You certainly couldn’t compete in a Panalpina-type environment – you’d lose your shirt. The best bet would be a deal with DHL or FedEx for the aircraft.”

However, another source said the aircraft was better than nothing.

“Those [aircraft] aren’t so bad when you consider that a lot of markets are being served by passenger freighters, which are less efficient than cargo aircraft. Everyone loves a 747-8F at the moment, they are hot right now.”

Both sources said the success – or not – of the operation would likely define CMA CGM’s future in air freight.

“The most important questions for me are, will CMA continue to bring more [planes] and connect more markets, and will Ceva, via CMA, roll out its own fleet over the time? A lot of this might be answered if the two planes operate successfully.”

Both sources also suggest routes will likely entail China-Europe, initially. Air Belgium currently operates passenger flights to French Caribbean destinations, but has been eyeing Chinese operations. One source told The Loadstar it had Chinese financial backers.

Air Belgium last week announced it was to take on four A330-200 freighters itself, also previously operated by Qatar Airways Cargo, which is moving to an all-Boeing freighter fleet. Air Belgium said it hoped to have six freighters by the end of this year. The first two should be operational by March, with the first based at Liege Airport.

Air Belgium was founded in 2016 by Niky Terzakis, formerly of ASL Airlines and TNT Airways, and launched its first passenger flight in 2018.

CMA CGM’s deal with the fledgling airline follows a planned investment in a 30% share of Groupe Dubreuil announced last September, worth €50m. The two companies said the investment was prompted by Groupe Dubreuil Aéro’s need to expand its freight business, following the collapse of passenger numbers since the onset of the pandemic.

Groupe Dubreuil Aéro owns two airlines, Air Caraïbes and French Bee, with a combined fleet of 14 long-haul aircraft, including eight A350s, and its air freight operations are managed by subsidiary Hi Line Cargo.

However, the investment plan has reportedly hit a bump in the road. Air Caraïbes has taken a public position against French state aid given to Corsair, which is said to have created tensions between the  presidents of the shipping line and aviation group. A decision is expected this month.

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