Freighter restraint pays off for British Airways

While its European rivals built up big freighter fleets, British Airways World Cargo (BAWC) took a more measured approach. That has been just one factor that has enabled it to weather the recent economic storm better than its rivals, as Peter Conway reports from London.

British Airways has often been accused of being “less serious” about cargo than its European rivals such as Air France-KLM and Lufthansa, mainly because it did not go in for large freighter fleets.

But in the past year the carrier has turned the tables somewhat. While its cargo traffic was down 7.2 per cent in 2009, according to the Association of European Airlines’ figures, that was half the fall at KLM (down 14.5 per cent), Lufthansa (down 18.4 per cent) and Air France (down 9.7 per cent).

The carrier’s cautious policy on freighters is also attracting imitators. The carrier has three B747-400Fs leased from Atlas, which used to look rather tiny compared to Air France’s dozen B747Fs and Lufthansa’s 19 MD-11Fs.

But in the past couple of years, the Air France fleet has been rapidly downsized, leaving it with just five freighters – two B777F and three B747-400ERFs – while KLM’s four B747-400ERFs have been leased to Martinair, to replace its parked B747-400 conversions. The idea that it is better for the cargo business not to operate large amounts of maindeck capacity seems to be catching on inEurope.

Steve Gunning, managing director of BAWC is not triumphalist on the subject, however. Certainly he thinks the policy of not putting too much maindeck capacity into the market was a sensible one, but he also reckons BAWC’s better performance than its rivals last year was due to less exposure to the Asian market.