Atran Airlines, Volga-Dnepr Group’s Russian express carrier, has received a second 737-800BCF into its fleet. 

The aircraft was delivered last week, after being converted by lessor Gecas. 

The carrier said the aircraft would be used for the “burgeoning traffic of e-commerce shipments, including mail consignments, between China, Russia, CIS, and beyond on the backdrop of the growing demand for cross-border purchases”. 

But the arrival is likely to add pressure on the group’s finances: Volga-Dnepr prefers sale and leaseback deals, rather than own aircraft, a slightly more expensive way of financing than some ownership options.

Amid concerns over a soft market, which does not appear to be shoring up, the group is also expecting an influx of leased 777 freighters next year. Subsidiary AirBridgeCargo has signed up for a sale and leaseback of three from DAE Capital, following a letter of intent signed with Boeing at last year’s Farnborough Air Show for 29 777s. 

The aircraft, according to one aviation source, are likely to cost the carrier a minimum of, and likely higher than, $1m a month each. 

The group has found 2019 tough going. Its airlines – ABC, Atran and Volga-Dnepr – saw total traffic fall 6% in the first half, some 20% below targets.

There has also been significant restructuring of the group. Its partner UK airline and company, CargologicManagement, owned by the same shareholder, has seen several high-profile executives leave, including David Kerr and Robert van der Weg, while Ulrich Ogiermann recently left Cargologic Germany. 

CargologicGermany has yet to start commercial services despite having received its AOC. It has two 737-400Fs and is due to receive one of Atran’s 737-400Fs shortly, which is expected to be used on short-haul routes.  

Dmitry Obsharov, general director Atran, explained: “With the new aircraft, not only will we be able to expand our Hangzhou and Xi’an routes and meet the demand of our customers, but also utilise our fleet more efficiently, as the B737-400SF is not the best freighter to operate these middle-haul flights. 

The growing fleet with better capabilities is one of the growth drivers of our volumes, which demonstrated a more-than-40% uptick for the first eight months of 2019. As the e-commerce bonanza will only deepen, we feel our services will be in high demand among our customers.” 

While Mr Obsharov seems bullish, the group and its partner airlines will also have a lot to contend with next year – not least a very wide variety of aircraft types. VDA operates 12 AN-124s and five IL-76s; ABC and Cargologicair have 18 747Fs as well as the 777Fs coming, while Atran has six 737s and Cargologic Germany has two. 

“They are going to feel the cost of those extra aircraft next year,” commented one air cargo executive. 

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