Prolonged slowdown in the oil, mining and gas industry continues to have a serious impact on the air cargo charter sector. However, poor demand for cargo charters from the extraction industry has forced charter operators to look for demand elsewhere. And they are beginning to do well, writes Reji John

Charter specialist Air Charter Service (ACS) saw cargo revenues dip in 2016 even though the company managed to make good financial performance overall. ACS registered an 8 percent improvement in revenues to £342m for the year ending January 31 and arranged 12,500 contracts. However, the company said its cargo division's revenues were down as 2015 benefitted from the strikes at west coast US seaports.

"In the previous financial year we did a lot of high turnover, large aircraft business around the US west coast port strike in early 2015, which slightly skewed our cargo department's figures. 2016 saw no 'exceptional events' and, due to this, our cargo department suffered a slight drop in terms of turnover, however underlying revenue increased by 5 percent. Volumes were also up – an increase of more than 6 percent in cargo charter contracts, coupled with more than 1,000 onboard courier jobs, a growth of 60 percent on the previous year," said Justin Bowman, CEO, ACS.

"We are extremely confident about this current year and beyond and that our growth will continue. Despite the various worldwide political instabilities, and unknown challenges, currently things are looking good," Bowman added.

Volga-Dnepr Airlines is continuing to see an upturn in the movement of oil and gas cargoes, including its latest delivery of pump and vaporizer skids to Seoul, South Korea. Operated on behalf of ACS France for its customer, Heppner Transport & Logistics, one of Volga-Dnepr's An-124-100 freighters transported the cargo from Switzerland's EuroAirport Basle-Mulhouse Freiburg to Seoul's Incheon International Airport. The shipment, which included two pieces both weighing 19.5 tonnes and two weighing 14.8 tonnes each, was loaded using the An-124-100's onboard crane system.

"This charter project shows that the O&G industry is still doing well," said Alexandre Busila, Cargo Director, ACS France.

Specialist freighter operator Antonov Airlines wants to expand transatlantic all-cargo charter services as it leverages a bilateral air services agreement between Ukraine and the US. The Kiev-based operator, with a fleet of Antonov An-124-100Fs and the sole Antonov An-225 mega freighter, will target the oil and gas energy market and the aerospace sector for charters. The US aviation agreement, which was signed by Washington in 2015, cuts red tape and speeds up the carrier's response time for quotes.

"In 2015, the US and Ukraine signed a new 'Open Skies' bilateral air services agreement. This means that Antonov Airlines has been granted air charter exemptions for flights to and from the US. Effectively, we can now carry almost any type of cargo to or from the US with little notice," said Paul Bingley, Stansted-UK based commercial manager for Antonov Airlines.

Dube Cargo Terminal, part of the Dube TradePort, has invested in a specialised outsized cargo handling facility which is equipped with hoists, mobile cranes and conveyor systems to handle bulky or outsized shipments such as large pipes, outsized machinery, motor vehicles, large animals and 20-foot ocean containers.

"The infrastructure to handle outsized cargo allows us to be flexible in enabling more specialised charter flights as well as growing cargo throughput by facilitating sea to air connections via the increased cargo capacity from the air services that already fly directly to Durban," explained Ricardo Isaac, Manager, Dube Cargo Terminal. According to Isaac, the last 12 months have seen a steady growth in excess of 20 percent in cargo throughput.

In March this year Dube Cargo Terminal welcomed an Antonov An-124 cargo aircraft, carrying 80 tonnes of highly specialised spools which forms part of the main furnace at a local oil refinery. "Due to the enormity of this cargo, not to mention the monetary value of the shipment, extreme care and caution had to be taken in ensuring that the transportation and disembark from the aircraft, as well as loading onto the specialised low bed trucks, was carried out with the utmost precision and precaution," said Justin Naidoo, airfreight controller at Sebenza Forwarding and Shipping, the company contracted to oversee the delivery.

Landing rights were secured a few weeks prior to the Antonov's arrival, the cargo being sourced and flown in from Germany. The aircraft took two and a half days to reach Durban's King Shaka International Airport, having left Leipzig Airport on March 27, with two rest and refuelling stops in Cairo and Mombasa.

Located 30km north of the South African city of Durban, Dube TradePort represents KwaZulu Natal's biggest infrastructure project. This Special Economic Zone (SEZ), geared to promote foreign and local investment, incorporates King Shaka International Airport.

Another cargo charter broker with global footprint is Chapman Freeborn with over four decades of experience. For Chapman Freeborn the focus has always been adding real value and taking on types of projects that offer unique challenges to offer its customers real value.

In the last 12 months Chapman Freeborn's activities in the commercial sector have been wide-ranging, from AN-124 and AN-225 outsize projects in support of the energy industry, to time-critical movements of hi-tech cargo and pharmaceuticals. The automotive sector has also represented a growth business in several key markets, and this year Chapman Freeborn further demonstrated its strengths in the aircraft leasing market with the provision of a B747-400F for Senator International's "Atlantic Air Bridge" - ferrying time-critical auto components between Europe and the US.

Chapman Freeborn's specialist animal transport division Intradco Global also continues to demonstrate its unique position as a leading animal transport specialist. Recently it completed record-breaking delivery of thoroughbred horses from Ireland to China. Elsewhere, it has flown everything from giraffes to rhinos as part of international conservation programmes.

However, Chapman has been a leader in humanitarian aid delivery in the African continent. It has been involved in the recent past doing charter services delivering thousands of tones of humanitarian cargo in East Africa. Chapman has an experienced team of professionals capable of delivering solution to complex air logistics problems.

Government of India pressed the Indian Air Force's cargo aircraft C17 Globemaster into service to fly fuel tankers to Imphal, the capital city of Indian state of Manipur, to ease the oil shortage triggered by the economic blockade imposed by civil unrest that paralysed normal life in the state. IAF airlifted diesel tankers with a total capacity of 96 kilolitres, or 96,000 litres, from Guwahati to Imphal in January this year. IAF has been known for putting into use its cargo aircraft for urgent charter missions during natural disasters and in emergencies.

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