Air Astana to retire passenger 767s as it launches cargo subsidiary

Air Astana plans to launch a cargo subsidiary, named Air Astana Cargo, to facilitate the supply of freight across the globe using 3 Boeing 767 aircraft. This comes amid a public healthy crisis which has forced thousands of companies into financial difficulties across the world - including airlines, airports and other aviation-related businesses.

Air Astana Boeing 767-300 registered P4-KEB. Air Astana operates 3 Boeing 767-300s. Photo by Ernest Leung | AeroNewsX

Air Astana's decision to launch a cargo division comes as no surprise following a drastic reduction in belly-cargo space which accounts for a large part of air freight capacity. Air Astana have commenced a conversion program for three Boeing 767-300s to operate for Air Astana Cargo. The aircraft will be laid out in a 'semi-cargo configuration' which results in the seats being removed to make room for more cargo.

However, following a return to normal operations on the passenger side of the industry, could we see an overcapacity issue when it comes to cargo? Speaking to AeroNewsX earlier today, Professor of Airline Economics at the University of Antwerp noted that prior to the pandemic, there was already overcapacity within the air cargo sector.

"Research indicated that there was a serious overcapacity. Passenger demand was outpacing the cargo demand, so more belly space capacity was put on the market. In addition, new aircraft like B787 and A350 are very cargo friendly passenger aircraft."

Dewulf continued: "Even with significantly lower cargo demand (about -30%), the supply is about -45%, resulting in significantly higher prices. Freighters are flying at full capacity, and some pax aircraft are flying cargo only on a number of routes. We see that the current demand for PPE is slowing down and that some airlines are planning to ramp up pax flights on trunk routes (look at SQ, EK, AF, KL, etc...). We will see a steady decline in cargo prices, caused by ramping up pax flights. Although it will take some time before the full pax schedules are restored, the demand for cargo will remain significantly below the pre-corona levels."

"So, investing in freighters now is a bit of a gamble," Dewulf concluded.

We spoke to the Professor earlier this month about his predictions regarding the coronavirus crisis. You can read the full interview here.

The reconfiguration of the first aircraft is already taking place in Almaty, Kazakhstan. The new cargo division will allow Air Astana to 'considerably increase the volume of transported goods and offer customers more flexible conditions.'

Air Astana has followed in the footsteps of other global passenger airlines including the likes of Air Canada and Lufthansa who have removed the seats from some of their Boeing 777s and Airbus A330s to increase cargo capacity. Aside from Air Astana, one of the latest airlines to join the trend is Air Belgium. The Brussels Charleroi-based airline yesterday revealed on social media that it had 'pushed the seats to the side and momentarily make room to transport essential medical cargo back to Belgium'.

Air Astana has also been transporting medical supplies, having used its fleet of Boeing 767-300s to bring equipment to Kazakhstan, Central Asia and Europe.

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