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Magma Aviation CEO Conor Brannigan has seen considerable change in the market since last summer, which accelerated from September into the fourth quarter as air cargo faces a cooling off period, post-pandemic.
“The Q4 peak was quite a reality check for the industry,” he told The Loadstar, but mentioned “multiple factors” impacting demand currently – for instance, the post-Chinese New Year period that, in theory, should stimulate market activity in China which then has a ripple effect, globally.
“I have cautious optimism we will see some improvement throughout 2023 and, from our perspective, we are anticipating a stable year,” noted Mr Brannigan.
He does not expect the highs of the last two-and-a-half years, but looking at the company’s plans for this year compared to 2017-2019, it’s certainly not all doom and gloom, he reckons.
Most cargo airlines operated a back-to-back schedule during the pandemic, with little or no room for new customers or strategies, but during the latter half of last year and into this, Mr Brannigan said there was more flexibility in the flying programme.
“We have been able to provide options for niche charter requests that we just couldn’t have done during the pandemic, and this has worked quite well for us so far, so we will maintain that strategy,” he said.
Charters are less susceptible to the peaks and troughs of demand and appear to be performing better industrywide, he said, adding: “No matter the market conditions, there will always be a requirement for bespoke capacity, and at Magma Aviation we thrive on offering such bespoke solutions.”
It is worth remembering that Magma Aviation is part of Chapman Freeborn and both are under the umbrella of Lithuania’s Avia Solutions Group, which also includes freighter operator Bluebird Nordic. The group is “leveraging its businesses” by encouraging synergies, but allowing individual strategies.
During 2021 and 2022, most of the charter flying at Magma Aviation was on major tradelanes, including transatlantic and Asia to Europe.
“We don’t see much charter demand on these lanes currently, and scheduled capacity seems to more than cover any general requirements. We see demand on niche charter projects, particularly from Europe into Africa, and Europe into the Middle East.”
According to flight tracking websites, two of Magma’s aircraft are plying their trade in Africa. But it is also servicing the transatlantic, with aircraft continuing to operate Senator’s route to Greenville-Spartanburg (now Maersk Air Cargo) from Frankfurt, on a route which also takes in Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai.
But Africa has always been the cornerstone of Magma’s operations and Mr Brannigan stressed that this market was not one to fly solo – partnerships and local support in various markets were essential, he said.
“We lost some of our agility in Africa during the pandemic, due to the inability to position crew in and out of certain markets because of strict Covid measures. We now have that agility back and we see positive developments as a result.”
Magma’s African capacity remains consistent thus far this year, and Mr Brannigan expects some additional capacity northbound due to Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day demand, flowers from East African markets being popular. He said Magma Aviation also operated several full and part-charters during the latter part of 2022 and into 2023.
The markets that most concern Mr Brannigan are transatlantic, where bellyhold capacity has returned almost to pre-pandemic levels.
“This comes as no surprise and, with inflation and the impact this has on the cost of living, we expect demand in Europe to reduce somewhat,” he noted.
Magma Aviation’s current fleet comprises five 747-400Fs and Mr Brannigan is keeping a close eye on what capacity is available in the market compared to requirements.
“We may add at least one aircraft in 2023, and we will look to open up new markets consequently,” he said, and looking ahead, Magma will evaluate the B777 conversion programme, especially the -300ER variant, which could be a good fit to supplement the 747s, he added.
In terms of new opportunities in 2023, Mr Brannigan said he was keen on expanding capacity and the network offering via partnerships.
“It was difficult to get traction on such initiatives during the pandemic; however, as these opportunities present themselves again, we are looking forward to making them work.”
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