Latvia’s SmartLynx Airlines, responding to strong market incentives, is diving deeper into the cargo business with the lease of five Airbus A330 widebody aircraft that have had their seats temporarily removed to increase cargo capacity.
The global economic recovery from the COVID pandemic is on a 6% growth trajectory this year, but the supply of aircraft is 14% to 18% below pre-crisis levels due to severe flight reductions by international passenger carriers. Interest in air is high to quickly fill manufacturing and retail orders during the recovery, but shippers face delays and rates that in many cases are more than double what they were in 2019.
It’s a significant move for a company that until this year didn’t operate any all-cargo aircraft and initially planned to sell transport service to express carriers and other customers with regional shipping needs.
On Thursday, SmartLynx announced it was adding long-haul cargo capability by leasing the A330s from CDB Aviation, the Irish subsidiary of the China Development Bank Financial Leasing Co. Ltd., and having STS Aviation Services in the United Kingdom do the modification work. It said the aircraft would enter service in May and June and operate between Asia, North America and Europe.
Without high rates, these auxiliary cargo aircraft would not be economically viable because they only carry about 40% of the cargo of a heavy freighter.
The modified aircraft can carry light boxes of vaccines, medical supplies and other goods in the cabin, but don’t have the heavy cargo capability of a fully converted freighter.
CEO Zygimantas Surintas said SmartLynx will replace the seats and restore the A330s to passenger service once the air cargo market returns to equilibrium and there is adequate capacity.
SmartLynx last October committed to lease two Airbus A321 converted freighters, a new product ideally suited for short-haul shuttle routes of which fewer than five have been produced so far. DHL Express has signed SmartLynx as a contract carrier when the planes are ready. SmartLynx has previously said it expects to receive the first A321 converted freighter in the third quarter. It plans to acquire 10 of the narrow-body freighters, including two more this year and four in 2022.