OCEAN shipping and global logistics giant CMA CGM Group is the surprise second customer for Airbus’ proposed new long-haul, wide body A350 freighter aircraft, writes Thelma Etim.

The big forwarder – its CEVA Logistics subsidiary is a major air cargo customer of many of the world’s airlines – controversially entered the world of its own controlled airfreight lift with the February 2021 launch of an A330-200 freighter linking Europe and the USA.

The parent company of CEVA Logistics has now signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the purchase of four A350Fs in a deal expected to be finalised over the next few weeks and which will increase the company’s total all-cargo Airbus fleet to nine aircraft.

Peter Penseel, chief operating officer for airfreight at CEVA, explained at the 13th virtual Air Cargo Handling Logistics Digital Conference why his company has opted to respond to the COVID pandemic capacity and pricing crisis by eschewing the traditional means of acquiring its airfreight lift. “The feedback from [our] customers is that prices are too high for the capacity,” he revealed.

“It is not that we want to have our own capacity. We would love to utilise our commercial carriers and to make commitment to our commercial carriers – but we also have a commitment to our customers,” he stated.

“When the pandemic started, we needed to step in to make sure that we have our [full] network available for our customers. It is not a primary task for us to start operating our own aircraft, our own flights or whatever. It is driven by the market and the commitment we gave to our customers. It is a reaction to the development,” he insisted.

By operating its own freighters CEVA also gains the flexibility to operate to alternative airports – “where we believe we can make a turnaround of two-and-a-half to three hours for a big aircraft rather than a wait of five, six or seven hours before we even start uploading our aircraft. And [this issue] is becoming more and more critical because an aircraft needs to be in the sky for at least 15 hours a day,” he pointed out.

The proposed new A350 freighter variant will have a large main-deck cargo door and a fuselage length specially optimised for a 109-tonne payload capability, offering 11 per cent more volume capacity than its competition. The A350F will serve all cargo markets including express, general cargo and special shipments, says the company.

More than 70 per cent of the A350’s airframe is made of advanced materials resulting in a 30-tonne lighter take-off weight and generates a 20 per cent lower fuel burn than its competitors. It will be the only new-generation freighter aircraft ready for the 2027 International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) CO2 emissions standards deadline, an initiative which is aimed at reducing the impact of aviation greenhouse gas emissions on the climate, says Airbus.

The aircraft order comes after American aircraft leasing company Air Lease Corporation (ALC) announced it is the launch customer of the new freighter type, placing an order for seven units at the Dubai Air Show.

Christian Scherer, Airbus’ chief commercial officer and head of Airbus International, insists that the A350F will fit seamlessly into CMA CGM’s existing fleet of Airbus freighters. “Thanks to its composite airframe and latest technology engines, it will bring unbeatable efficiency in terms of fuel burn, economics and CO₂ emissions, empowering the long-term sustainable growth of the group,” he says.

“Having an early endorsement by such an international cargo powerhouse as the CMA CGM Group is very gratifying,” he enthuses.

The CMA CGM Group, steered by Rodolphe Saadé, currently has 542 ocean vessels on its books which serve more than 420 seaports around the world. In 2019, the company transported nearly 22 million 20-foot-equivalent-unit (TEU) containers.

Each year, in partnership with its subsidiary CEVA Logistics, the shipping company handles more than 500,000 tonnes of airfreight and 1.9 million tonnes of inland freight.

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