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Alongside news that the air freight market has contracted by 3.5% so far this year, Lufthansa Cargo has announced a major shift in its fleet.

The German carrier is to upgrade its fleet with two new 777 freighters and withdraw all its MD-11Fs within the next year – a process faster than had been anticipated.

The new aircraft will be delivered next year, to be based in Frankfurt, while the remaining ten MD-11Fs will be withdrawn by the end of next year.

“We are investing in maximum reliability and significantly lower emissions,” said Peter Gerber, chief executive. “The modernisation of our fleet is the biggest contribution we can make to the future in the short term.”

The carrier said the 777 freighters would be able to fly the same volume of cargo with fewer aircraft movements. And the 777 is 20% more efficient than the MD-11Fs and emits less CO2.

“Overall, Lufthansa Cargo’s customers will have the same freighter capacity at their disposal at the end of the rollover as they had at the beginning, when 18 MD-11Fs were in operation for Lufthansa’s cargo arm,” added Mr Gerber.

Lufthansa Cargo will also have access to AeroLogic’s four 777Fs.

The Lufthansa Group, which has been forced to cancel 1,300 fights today and tomorrow due to a cabin crew strike, added that it would cut costs at subsidiary Austrian to save €90m by the end of 2021, which would include some 700 to 800 job cuts. It also plans to change the route network at Brussels Airlines and standardise its fleet.

News of the fleet changes came as IATA verified that the cargo market in September remained weak, with freight tonne km down 4.5% year on year, while capacity was up 2.1%.

However slight, though, there was some room for optimism.

IATA said that, “notwithstanding the ongoing weakness in the year-on-year (and year-to-date) growth outcome, removing the regular seasonal volatility in the monthly data gives a different perspective to recent developments. It clearly illustrates the fact that most of the decline in air freight volumes occurred in late 2018 and early 2019, with the downward trend having plateaued since that time.

“If the current trend is continued in the monthly outcomes, the year-on-year growth rate will return to positive territory in the early part of next year.”

But it also pointed to global uncertainties, in particular trade tariffs and continued negative figures in the export orders component of the Purchasing Managers’ Index.

“Trade volumes have been declining in year-on-year terms for the past three months across both advanced and emerging economies, with the latter having been particularly impacted,” it said. You can see the full report, with regional analysis, here.

In slightly more upbeat news, Virgin Australia is adding Tokyo-Haneda to its network in March. Marketed by Virgin Atlantic Cargo, the carrier will operate a daily A330 from Brisbane. However, Virgin Australia will be suspending its Hong Kong-Melbourne route in February, owing to soft passenger demand.

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