Wednesday, December 18, 2013

All Cargo Airline Settles Stakeholder Deal Which Sees Chinese Interest in European Air Freight

As Predicted Government Stake Sold Off in Five Way Split and Airships Back on the Agenda
Shipping News Feature

LUXEMBOURG – CHINA – AUSTRIA – RUSSIA – Luxembourg seems to finally be relinquishing its 35% share of all freight airline Cargolux, after the company’s Board of Directors approved an agreement with Chinese aviation investor Henan Civil Aviation Development & Investment (HNCA), a deal we predicted was on the cards a year ago when the authorities first injected the cash insisting it was only a temporary arrangement. Prior to the latest agreement, the Luxembourg Government struck a deal with Cargolux’s majority shareholder, Luxair, to purchase a further percentage on top of its current stake, in order retain its seat on the Cargolux Board of Directors.

The Luxembourg authorities bought the 35% share in Cargolux in November last year on an interim basis, when its Qatari backers withdrew its support. At the time we reported how labour unions claimed the Middle Eastern airline sold up after plans to take over Cargolux were unveiled and the most strenuous objections were raised by staff representatives.

If the agreement goes through, pending regulatory approval by the relevant Chinese authorities, passenger airline Luxair will own 35.01% of Cargolux; HNCA will own 35%; Luxembourg banks BCEE and SNCI will control 10.9% and 10.7% respectively; and the Government, 8.41%. There are some reservations from the transport unions involved in that a foreign company now has the possibility to obstruct company motions by owning more than one third of the shares, this however was previously the case with the Qatari Airline deal so is not seen as a major obstacle. Paul Helminger, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Cargolux, said:

“This transaction will enable Cargolux to be well positioned to profit from the trade movements generated by one of the world’s most dynamic and fastest developing economies and a province with an accelerating domestic appetite for goods transported by air.”

In other news from the airline, Cargolux has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Aeroscraft Corporation (Aeros) which is proposing a new variable-buoyancy cargo airship known as the Aeroscraft. The new airship is aimed at the multimodal market and will obviously require strenuous viability tests before commercial use and is eventually intended for the African and some European markets.

Although most professionals are sceptical about the capabilities of lighter than air transport systems there may well be some uses for the proposed Aeroscraft 66 short ton (ML866) and the Aeroscraft 250 short ton (ML868) models, the ability to transport 20 foot ISO containers with a reduced cost to inhospitable areas may well find a niche market. A principal benefit for the Luxembourg airline may well be the maintenance and logistics contracts which come from the mutual cooperation.

Meanwhile in other air cargo news, specialist out of gauge and project air freight group Volga-Dnepr operated one of its IL 76TD 90VD freighters to delivered two large self-propelled modular transporters from Austria to Khabarovsk, Russia. Coincidentally it was the Russian carrier whose name was the other principal candidate to take a stake in Cargolux when the Qatari’s sold up.

Volga-Dnepr completed the latest reported flight and logistics services on behalf of the Russian oversized and heavy cargo transportation specialist SWTrans. The 51 tonne cargo consisted of the two modular transporters measuring 8.7 metres long, 2.4 metres wide and 1.5 metres high, which are used for the transportation of heavy outsize loads, together with a control station.

One of the main challenges facing the Volga-Dnepr team was that the complete shipment could not travel on a single IL 76TD 90VD flight because of its size and weight. In addition, the transporters couldn’t be moved without the control station, making this critical to the loading and unloading procedures. Vladimir Vyshemirsky, Director of Volga-Dnepr’s Engineering and Logistics Centre, outlined the team’s solution, saying:

“We decided the best way to help this customer was to use the IL-76TD-90VD flight to carry the transporters from Maastricht [The Netherlands] to Khabarovsk and to deliver the 5 tonne control station on board AirBridgeCargo Airlines’ scheduled cargo service from Amsterdam. This ensured we reduced the customer’s costs while at the same time ensuring we had the control station available for both loading and unloading.”

Photo: Loading one of the transporters aboard the aircraft.