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AMSTERDAM: The Air France KLM Group says it will complete a study on the future of its freighter fleet by "June or July" this year.

MD11 PH-MCW MartinairAccording to Erik Varwijk, executive vice president Air France-KLM-Martinair Cargo, all options are being considered – from retention of what will soon be 10 aircraft, to complete disposal.

Varwijk declined to comment on the future of Martinair should the airline group decide that its mixed fleet of B747-400s, MD-11s and B777 freighters become surplus to requirements. The cargo head acknowledged that while certain types of traffic still require freighter aircraft, the amount of capacity in the marketplace makes it extremely difficult for freighter services to make a net contribution on some routes.

With a drop of 2.5 percent in unit costs and a 5.6 percent increase in operational productivity between Q1 2013 and Q1 2014, the AF-KL-MP cargo management appears more preoccupied with returning to profitability than continuing a legacy operation with aircraft that are apparently beyond their sell-buy date.

Varwijk suggested that with KLM continuing its 747 Combi operations until 2020 – providing adequate main deck capacity for traffic that needs more headroom – the airline's widebodied passenger fleet, soon to include A350s and B787s, could be enough to meet the needs of its customers should Martinair's capacity get the thumbs down.

Given that Air France and KLM operate a B777 passenger fleet, time should soon tell whether there's a valid argument for retaining the two Air France B777 freighters and partnering with other operators for ad hoc capacity. Varwijk noted the combination of reduced airfreight growth and vast widebody capacity has made the industry's historic attachment to flying freighters at just about any price a thing of the past for all but subsidised operators.



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