Lufthansa Cargo’s first A321 e-commerce freighter takes off

LUFTHANSA Cargo’s inaugural A321 e-commerce freighter flight to Dublin, Ireland, is not only representative of the German carrier’s serious ambition to capture a significant market share of e-commerce shipments but is also an example of how legacy airfreight businesses are altering their traditional approach to this burgeoning airfreight segment, writes Thelma Etim.

Cross border-ecommerce will outgrow normal e-commerce and will emerge as a one to two-trillion-dollar market in 2025, according to Ludwig Hausman, partner at consultants Mckinsey and Company Deutschland.

“Quite specifically, narrow body freighters will play a huge role in cross-border e-commerce logistics. We know that 60 per cent of cross-border e-commerce shipments still get transported inter-continentally but 40 per cent are flown intra-continents and now narrow body mid-haul freighters are coming into play,” he observes.

On 15 March, amidst much pomp and ceremony in a virtual livestream broadcast, flight number LH8350, the carrier’s first A321 freighter, took off from Frankfurt at 16:21 local time headed for Dublin, carrying express freight and general cargo, before continuing on to Manchester in the UK.

Christened ‘Hello Europe,’ the twin-engine aircraft was operated by Lufthansa CityLine under wet lease, offering a maximum a payload 28 tonnes and a range of 1,900 nautical miles (3,500 kilometres).

Proffering a range of scheduled, charter and same-day services, the carrier will gradually add Istanbul, Tel Aviv, Malta, and Tunis as part of its wider global freighter network. In the summer schedule starting 29 March, the airline will also add flights to Cairo. These partially new stations will be served two-to-three times a week to and from Frankfurt.

The A321passenger-to-freighter (p2f) model also allows the use of standardised cargo pallets/containers on the main deck, making it one of the most versatile aircraft in its class. It offers faster loading and unloading, enabling highly efficient flight operations, says a statement. Lufthansa Cargo’s second A321 medium-haul freighter is expected to enter service in late summer.

Explaining why the company has taken this direction, Dorothea von Boxberg, chairperson of the executive board and chief executive of Lufthansa Cargo, discloses: “We see that there is increased demand from customers within Europe for very fast connections, and that is what airfreight is always about.

“One segment that is growing very fast is the e-commerce segment but there are also others, such as spare parts or other very time-sensitive goods.”

She points out that the airfreight division entered the e-commerce market by initially selling the belly-hold space on the group’s other passenger airlines. “But as we worked with e-tailers, we realised that the little space that you have in the belly hold of a continental [passenger] aircraft is just not enough for e-commerce needs and that is why we were fortunate to get agreement to really [kick-start] this short and medium haul network.”

Along with many other airlines, the German carrier encountered initial border disruptions with BREXIT Customs declarations, whilst COVID 19 disruptions then also slowed down transportations from the UK.

Meanwhile, von Boxberg is quick to point out that the company’s staff have established various initiatives, including fundraising, to assist the Ukrainian people. “We have a war in Europe and that is something that is not only shocking us but also affecting us deeply and there are many colleagues who really want to do something and feel with the Ukrainian people,” she states.

“With Lufthansa Cargo’s road-feeder services, [humanitarian relief] goods are currently being transported close to the [Ukraine] border. Colleagues have teamed up to collect goods that will then be taken to Hungary next week. Also, this [A321] aircraft will play a role too by flying to Poland with some relief goods.”

The German carrier currently operates a long-haul freighter fleet comprising 15 B777 freighters.

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