Aviation article(s)
October 3, 2017

Freighter operators and charter brokers have experienced a sense of déjà vu in recent weeks, with forwarders knocking on their doors trying to sign up charters for the peak season.


“We have a lot of requests for full charters,” reported Shawn McWhorter, president for the Americas at Nippon Cargo Airlines.


The clamour for peak season charters marks a radical change from recent years and a return to a seasonal pattern from the past. In the subdued market since the global economic downturn hit the industry, forwarders no longer saw a need for charter capacity to move peak season volumes, which led observers to speculate if the seasonal pattern was a thing of the past.


The unexpected rush for lift has led to some bottlenecks in the market. “It’s a bit of a squeeze on capacity,” remarked Dan Morgan-Evans, global cargo director at Air Charter Service.


In the main this has affected large widebody freighters, notably Boeing 747s. The Antonov 124 and Ilyushin 76 types are not affected by this, as they are usually not deployed for cargo that can be accommodated on other widebodies.


In the spring, charter brokers still reported some overcapacity, but the rise in regular air freight has changed the picture markedly. According to Morgan-Evans, it is still possible to get hold of large freighters, but the rates have gone up significantly, he noted.


Even before general cargo forwarders saw a need to turn to charter capacity to supplement scheduled lift cargo, charter activity had been going fairly strong. Charter projects as well as enquiries have strengthened this year, noted Pierre van der Stichele, group cargo operations director at brokerage Chapman-Freeborn.


Even the oil and gas and mining sectors are showing signs of coming back to life, although oil prices remain too low to trigger off a new spate of exploration, said Jeff Cullen, CEO of Rodair International. The Canadian forwarder had left its project business idling during the downturn but is investing in it again in response to signals that activity in these sectors is finally on the rise.


The strengthening of the resource sector also shows in increased charter activity in Africa. Chapman-Freeborn strengthened its hand in this market in May when it increased its stake in freighter operator Magma Aviation to 75%. Magma runs two 747-400 freighters that are mostly serving a number of countries in Africa.


“This helps us do charters,” said van der Stichele.


One sector that has been going strong for a number of charter brokers has been the automotive industry. For Air Partner, the latest job in this sector involved two flights to move a couple of automotive shipments to Sweden. Time-critical movements for this industry make up a significant amount of the charter broker’s cargo business.


Automotive traffic has also been a strong plank for cargo charters serving Mexico. Several large international automakers have moved to set up new manufacturing plants there, which has entailed a steady flow of charters to supply critical parts for the new production lines.


The Charter Store recently strengthened its reach into that market with the opening of an office in Guadalajara.

“Our [North American Free Trade Agreement] business has realized a noteworthy expansion in the last three years and, consequently, customers are demanding more than just the usual airport-to-airport solutions,” said Charter Store president Harry Steiner. “We can now offer our customers a true door-to-door product.”


He added that the company is considering adding hand-carry courier services. Over the past few years, several large charter brokers – including Air Partner, Air Charter Service and Chapman-Freeborn – have added on-board courier services to their portfolio, which has been well received, according to Morgan-Evans.


Van der Stichele noted that offering a full portfolio of services has emerged as a key trend in the charter brokerage field.

Another important factor is the ability to find different solutions, such as part charters or diversions of scheduled flights to pick up loads en route. During the downturn, a number of scheduled freighter operators have put more focus on the charter sector and become more flexible in this respect. At the same time shippers would rather not pay for a full charter if there are cheaper alternatives around.



By Ian Putzger

Air Freight Correspondent | Toronto

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