Once owned by Lufthansa, Germany’s 65-year-old low-cost passenger carrier Condor Airlines is converting its entire long-haul fleet to the Airbus 330 neo aircraft and aggressively courting U.S. air freight shippers to Europe, pitching forwarders with per flight maximum belly payloads of 15.8 tons,
The Neu-Isenburg, Germany based airline, flying several distinctive “candy cane” colors, is expanding and upgrading its long-haul fleet of 310-seat wide-bodied airplanes to accommodate a new 30-seat lie-down business class and a 64-seat premium economy class. The transformation to the A-330 neo, replacing its smaller, older 767s, will give Condor approximately 50 percent more lift per flight, Bernd Bechtel, commercial director cargo, told Air Freight News in an exclusive interview. The carrier has phased out its fleet of jumbo Boeing 747 aircraft on its long-haul routes.
Condor, which focuses largely on leisure markets, also entered the San Francisco market on a seasonal basis in May with six weekly flights from SFO to Frankfurt through October. This is the second year in a row the airline has added the Bay Area to its routes giving forwarders and 3PLs with technology customers a non-stop option into Europe and beyond, noted Robert van de Weg, chief commercial officer for ECS Group, the Paris-headquartered general sales and service (handling) agent (GSSA) that represents Condor Airlines worldwide in more than 52 countries. This year, the carrier doubled its frequencies at San Francisco International Airport from three flights a week during the 2022 season.
Condor maintains a relatively low profile in the U.S. But it has year-around service to Frankfurt from New York’s JFK Airport, Toronto, Los Angeles’s LAX and Seattle, with seasonal service to Frankfurt, in addition to SFO, from Boston, Baltimore, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Portland, OR, Vancouver, Anchorage, Fairbanks plus White Horse, Halifax and Edmonton in Canada. Again, ECS Group, handles all sales and service in those seasonal markets through either their online stations or offline with road feeders, according to van de Weg. Most seasonal market flights are twice weekly.
Bechtel said by outsourcing 100% of its cargo sales, marketing, and handling to ECS Group, Condor streamlines its air freight operations and communications and efficiency, rather than using different GSSA’s in various parts of the world. ECS has 160 offices worldwide. “Their job is to optimize cargo revenue and take care of our shipping customers,” he added.
The expansion comes at a time when air cargo demand worldwide is moderately declining. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported that global demand, measured in cargo tonne kilometers (CTKs) fell 6.6 percent in April 2023 over the year earlier month and dropped 7 percent for international operations. However, the decline was a slight improvement over March 2023 where demand fell 7.6 percent globally.
At the same time, IATA reported that capacity, measured in available cargo tonne kilometers or ACTK, was up 13.4% in April compared to April 2022. The performance marked the first time in three years that global capacity has surpassed pre-COVID levels. The strong uptick is primarily driven by belly capacity as demand In the passenger business recovered, IATA recently reported.
van de Weg said the “outlook for the current year is positive for Condor and other belly freight air cargo operators. During COVID, the geopolitical situation and inflation took its toll on travelers and consumers, instead, were buying stuff for their home and themselves, driving airlift demand. There were fewer flights and less capacity which translated into higher cargo yields and revenues. In 2000 and 2001, Condor converted its B767 passenger planes into freighter aircraft and operated more than 200 full charters for forwarders shipping for China.
Now it is almost the reverse cycle. People are buying passenger seats, there is more money going into travel and now it’s a different focus. Now we have a situation where the market cargo capacity is far higher than the cargo demand, which currently brings the cargo market into a stress test with falling yields and lower load factors. However, we believe in 2023 and 2024, the air freight markets will stabilize and recover,” van de Weg told Air Freight News.
Condor’s Bechtel puts it this way. “With our expanded belly capacity, multiple airport solutions, enhanced US route services to Europe, new capability of e-booking with portals such as Cargo AI or web cargo, we allow small, medium and big forwarders to connect (with us) for any size of shipment to connect with us and get our attention.”
By upgrading its inflight passenger services and capacity, the carrier is outclassing its low-cost rivals across the Atlantic---Norwegian and Norse---and aggressively targeting more air cargo tonnage. The question is whether the leisure passenger airline has lower cost cargo prices as well?
Contends Bechtel: “As a leisure cargo airline, we don’t discount our cargo rates, per se. We are trying to get optimal pricing based on demand and supply. Keep in mind that to Frankfurt particularly, we operate a premium product in terms of schedule and on-time performance. Hence, our cargo product sales also reflect this with a focus on pharma, perishables, and express shipments.”
The A330 neo’s standard belly cargo configuration accommodates six PMC/P6P pallets (96 inches by 125 inches) which offers approximately 11.5 cubic meter space each. Alternatively, the plane can also handle 18 AKE/LD-3s. “A normal departing (Condor) aircraft that is filled can accommodate nine to 12 tons of cargo when leaving from Los Angeles or the West Coast,” said Bechtel.
Added van de Weg of ECS Group, “our job, as TQM or total quality management (provider) for Condor is to make sure both the costs and the revenue is optimized for which we apply our resources –our worldwide sales force, trucking network, digital tools like E-booking platform and cargo handling arrangements.”
Bechtel stressed that even though Condor is “outsourcing” its cargo operations to ECS Group, “we have a very close and intense collaboration with them to serve their forwarders on a day-to-day basis. Next to its commercial functions such as marketing and sales, ECS contracts cargo handling services, road feeder service, conducts security and safety audits and manages cargo claims. The difference with us and other airlines that outsource their cargo operations is that we are practically bolted together. We work extremely synchronized and collaboratively, otherwise it would not work.”
With Condor adding San Francisco to its route map even though it is seasonal, does that mean the airline will be drawing a specific bead on high value technology cargoes to Europe?
Yes and no. van de Weg said it is focusing on the larger forwarders like C.H. Robinson, DHL, Expeditors, and others that have a broad customer base, “Plus, while we are certainly interested in technology, there is less, and less tech manufactured in the (San Francisco) Bay Area today than in previous years. While there is still that business around, another interesting commodity for us is perishables.”
Overall, Bechtel emphasized that with its new fleet, its roomier inflight seating configurations, its expanded routing in North America and its partnership with ECS, Condor cannot be termed just as a “low-cost passenger airline. For us, this is a game-changer.”
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