Air Bridge Cargo - Aiming to become a benchmark
Russia’s AirBridgeCargo Airlines is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. Since last August the company has been led by Denis Ilin, who played a significant role when the airline was established as a part of the Volga-Dnepr Group back in 2004. Now the goal is different, as he recently explained to the ITJ’s airfreight editor Andreas Haug.
Mr Ilin, your personal experience in the airfreight industry is closely interwoven with that of the Volga-Dnepr Group. Please describe it, and tell us what you’re doing today.
Well, I’m the executive president of AirBridgeCargo Airlines, and I also provide direction for the charter airline Atran and other smaller VD Group members. Therefore my task is very easily defined – there’s a business plan and there’s a budget, and I have to meet it. I’ve been with the VD Group since 1995, and when I joined ABC there were only eight people in the project team. In 2008, when ABC became an established airfreight operator, I took a new opportunity outside of the group, because I wanted to gain new experience.
However, when the new strategic plans were presented to me in 2013 and the job offer was made, it looked very interesting. The group had developed the airline’s fleet and network and outlined its ambitious plans to me, and I very much welcomed the opportunity to be part of what is going to be an exciting future.
I understand your choices well. You’ve known ABC for a long time. How has the business developed in the last decade?
ABC had developed into an established carrier in terms of its market position, as well as in terms of volumes carried and its continued focus on improving operational performance and customer service. The business model is still valid and you just need to tune it up a little bit, rather than reviewing it completely. It still envisages Russia as a strategic transit point, with the shortest routes between the main markets in Europe, North America and Asia, and developing imports to Russia.
I’m confident that Russia’s transit potential will continue to grow. This was demonstrated when we launched flights to the USA. So ABC is in a good position and is ready for a further step up. To achieve this, we need more people with the highest level of education and a great deal of experience.
This explains the hiring of the former Cargolux managers Peter van de Pas and Robert van de Weg (see ITJ Daily of 31 March 2014).
When we presented our concept to them, they were very keen to be involved and decided very quickly to answer our call.
They’ll both be based in Luxembourg. Volga-Dnepr’s attempt to score points with the freighter operator Air Cargo Germany, based at Frankfurt Hahn airport, ended last year with the latter’s bankruptcy (see ITJ 19-20 / 2013, page 19).
We’re an entrepreneurial company, and business is business. Some decisions work, others don’t. We gained some very valuable experience from our 49% involvement in ACG. Maybe we weren’t ready, and probably it just wasn’t the right moment to benefit from such a move.
Our intent was to go a little bit beyond Russia. Our home market is good as an anchor, but if you want to be a global firm you also have to be represented around the world. We’ll continue on this path, even if some of the measures implemented to this end may look different.
ACG was stationed at Frankfurt Hahn, and ABC is the second-largest full-freighter operator at Frankfurt airport.
Compared with other airports, the conditions – slot limits, fees and the like – aren’t necessarily the best, but our customers want to see us there, so there we are. Flexibility is one of our key strengths. If our customers ask us to move to Frankfurt Hahn, we’ll do that. Or take Munich: we’ve been flying there since 9 May, not because there’s a nice airport there, but because there’s demand for our services there from our customers.
You operate with a dual hub in Moscow. How does that work?
Sheremetyevo is our priority hub, where we process transhipments. Domodedovo is more a destination than a hub. There is traffic to DME, but only SVO works as an ABC hub.
ABC recently added the stations of Malmö and Leipzig to its network. Are you planning to add more destinations?
It’s not very likely in Europe for the time being, because we already have a good network to major cities. However, there is one region which is missing from our route network, and that is the UK. At present we’re in negotiation with Prestwick airport, because the hub is currently trying to attract more main-deck capacity for both import and export growth.