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2011 was a difficult year for freighter operators. The evidence is parked on various tarmacs around the world, as Cargoitalia and Deccan 360 have folded, Jade Cargo has "temporarily" grounded its fleet, and Air India has put all of its remaining freighters up for sale. Other carriers are struggling, and we may see more exits from the business this year. But that has not deterred new entrants, and we may soon see new long-haul freighter operations starting up in Malaysia and Nigeria. Since the Malaysian carrier is closer to launching operations, we start with it:
Malaysia-based startup Eaglexpress Air Charter bought three 747-400 passenger aircraft from Penerbangan Malaysia, the parent company of Malaysia Airlines (MAS), for a reported US$18 million each, and says it will buy three 747-400Fs before the end of the year, as well as two 737-400s or -800s. The airline, which plans to focus on passenger and cargo charter operations only, was granted an air service permit (ASP) by the Malaysian Transport Ministry to operate passenger and cargo flight services, and says it expects its air operator certificate (AOC) shortly. First flight is scheduled for February.
Regarding its cargo aspirations, Eaglexpress says it will focus on South Korea and Hong Kong, and its aircraft will operate from those places rather than from Malaysia where its passenger operations will be based. There has been no announcement regarding the source of the 747-400Fs, although we point out that MAS currently has two units (28434 and 29902), and may sell off its MASkargo arm as part of a restructuring effort.
Eaglexpress was founded in August 2011 by ex-GREAT WALL AIRLINES pilot Captain Shin Man Soo (40%), ex-MAS pilot Captain Azlan Zainal Abidin (20%), ex-Director of Mayban Finance Dato Wan Ismail bin Abdul Rahman (20%), and ex-Director General of Immigration for Malaysia Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Ase Bin Haji Che Mat (20%). The four hold the main executive and directorial positions at the carrier, but it is reported that some of the original investment came from the Middle East. Looking ahead, the carrier said it expected to generate revenues of US$100 million in 2012, break even in 2013, and have 20 aircraft in its fleet in the next three-to-five years. Given the struggle to survive faced by other startup long-haul operators in recent years this will not be an easy task, but we shall see.
Another potential new entrant to the main-deck freight scene is Nigeria-based Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCOL). According to a report in the allAfrica news service, Isaac Orolugbagbe, the outgoing Managing Director of the ground handling company, announced that as part of its expansion plans SAHCOL intended to invest about US$500 million to set up an all-cargo airline. “We don’t want SAHCOL of Nigeria; we want a global SAHCOL. We want to take it to South Africa and Europe. We want to build a Nigerian conglomerate that everyone will be proud of.” He gave no further details, nor diid he provide a timetable, but did add that funding would not be a problem. Again, not an easy task in front of them, but Nigeria, like Malaysia, is booming.