© Grzegorz Kieca

It has been a busy period for charter and on-demand cargo lately at US-based National Air Cargo – especially with the rising need for humanitarian shipments to crisis-hit regions.

Caterina Alf, director of global business development, has closely watched trends in global air freight over the last few years. She said: “Post-pandemic, we saw demand from the Far East to the US take a dip, but we are now seeing improvements.”

She said the market had seen considerable exports from the US to Europe and missions around regions such as the Middle East.

In fact, recent Eurostat (EC) trade data between the EU and the US, seen by The Loadstar, backs up the trend, indicating that trade to and from the US increased between January 2021 and December 2022.

Exports from the EU grew from €32bn in January 2021 to €43.1bn in December 2022. Imports from the US were €16.4bn in January 2021, growing to €29.9bn in December 2021, and reached €33.6bn in October 2022.

The economic outlook for air cargo this year is expected to be challenging, as analysts at IATA suggested. At the start of the year, demand started on a weaker note while  cargo capacity increased.

Despite belly capacity returning, Ms Alf is still hopeful about the opportunities for the all-cargo market, noting that US passenger air carriers may still be unable to load bellies on several routes – where they must avoid overflying Russia, for instance.

“With China reopening, we have seen the demand for freighters strengthen again,” she said, adding that the past few years had given National the opportunity to enter new markets, and it remained keen on managing a diversified operation.

National is a big player in diverse cargo. Some 21 pallets of medical supplies were recently sent to Adana, Turkey, and distributed to Syrian medical experts caring for earthquake victims, and a 747-400BCF landed at Katowice in Poland to pick up freight for the telecoms industry in India.

And the carrier has been partnering with organisations and governments to deliver humanitarian aid and relief to places like Ukraine and Turkey. Last month, National uplifted 17 tonnes of aid, which included sleeping bags, quilts, clothing and generators, to be distributed to military hospitals and rehabilitation centres around Ukraine.

The safe and timely delivery of aid has to be well-orchestrated, and National Air Cargo has been actively involved in the sectors of aid and relief flights for more than three decades, according to chairman Christopher Alf.

According to CH Aviation, National Airlines has a fleet of 10 aircraft: six 747-400BCFs; two 747-400Fs; and a passenger fleet of one A330-200 and a B757-200.

Ms Alf said that, with 15 to 30 years of operational life remaining, the 747-400 freighters would remain “vital assets in fulfilling the requirements well into the future”. She added: “No western aircraft moves more weight or has more usable cubic volume, so given our confidence, we are looking to add additional 747-400Fs this year.”

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