Lufthansa Cargo deploys new MD-11 freighter to Malta route
Mr Schäfer said the Saturday service has the potential to be extended and a second flight operating mid-week could be introduced in around three months' time. The flight originates in Bangalore and heads to Malta via Chennai and Sharjah on its way to Frankfurt.
Able to carry a maximum load of 95.1 tonnes, the MD-11 has a total capacity of 534 cubic metres. It is 61.6 metres long and stands 17.6 metres above ground, with a wingspan of 51.8 metres; 200 have been built. Lufthansa Cargo boasts 19 MD-11 freighters among its fleet.
Malta manager Tony Mifsud, who heads the local three-strong team, said the aircraft presented the Malta route with several new advantages particularly main deck cargo capacity. It is now possible for Lufthansa Cargo to carry shipments measuring 2.5 metres weighing a maximum of nine tonnes from Malta.
The Malta service, which dates to 1984, originally used the bellies of passenger aircraft for cargo freight. A 737 freighter serviced the route in 1988. Seven years ago, a joint venture with Air Malta saw Lufthansa Cargo operate a DHL freighter.
Lufthansa Cargo, whose local customers are mainly forwarding agents and shippers, has seen tonnage carried out of Malta increase steadily, according to Mr Schäfer. Since the late 1980s, Lufthansa Cargo's Malta service has been involved in the export of flowers, hanging garments, high tech semi-conductors, tuna, automotive supplies and pharmaceuticals.
The new service will allow further specialisation of conditions for the commodity carried from shipper to consignee.
In 2003, the Malta route scored somewhat of a record with a chain of 38 charter flights Malta-Munich-Japan for tuna export. It was the longest charter chain for a single customer Lufthansa Cargo had ever operated, Mr Schäfer said.
The Malta operation also holds another record. With over 80 per cent of bookings made on-line, Malta is one of the champions for cargo e-bookings. Mr Mifsud said his office is working towards achieving paperless freight by 2011.
Lufthansa Cargo operates the world's largest networks with 360 destinations (including Lufthansa passenger destinations) on a 'hub and spoke' system. Cargo is mainly carried to all hubs in Germany and then forwarded worldwide. As much as 50 per cent of cargo is carried on passenger aircraft - the Malta passenger route is serviced by an A320 or A321 - the rest is carried on freighter aircraft. Mr Schäfer pointed out that only a minority of cargo stays in Europe.
Asked whether Malta could be used as a Lufthansa Cargo hub, Mr Schäfer said the airline has discussed the issue with Maltese authorities for over six years, since the early days of his appointment to the region.
"It is a matter of infrastructure and of easing processes involving issues like Customs, and co-operation between seaport and airport over transportation," he pointed out. "We have a Freeport zone but the Freeport is not directly connected to the airport. That is an opportunity that has never been exploited."
Lufthansa Cargo has a string of strategic partnerships: in mid-2005, it signed a co-operation agreement with Swiss World Cargo, giving it access to an even wider network and allowing it to offer more services. Other agreements are in place with Japan Airlines Cargo, Air China Cargo, Lan Cargo and DHL.
Last year, Lufthansa Cargo and Shenzhen Airlines founded Chinese carrier Jade Cargo International giving it broader service opportunities to China from Europe. The carrier has a fleet of six brand new 747-400 freighters operating from a small base in Shenzhen, close to Hong Kong, transporting goods to and from Europe.
Mr Schäfer explained that Jade Cargo International's headquarters are comparatively small because it mainly uses Lufthansa Group services. By having an airline headquartered in China, Lufthansa, thanks to its 25 per cent stake, is able to transport cargo from China over the Pacific to the US. European carriers are not permitted to land in China, load cargo and fly to the US.
"Lufthansa Cargo has practically no blind spot in China," Mr Schäfer pointed out. "It has over 90 destinations, cities with a population of over one million. With Volkswagen, Lufthansa Group was the first German company to venture into China 30 years ago when it set up an overhaul company in Beijing. The Chinese always appreciated our early engagement. We are now the cargo carrier with the best coverage in China. It was a strategic investment."
Meanwhile, DHL Express and Lufthansa Cargo have developed their business relationship further by establishing AeroLogic, a cargo carrier operating eight new Boeing 777-200 freighters based close to Leipzig. The first aircraft will be delivered in June. It is Lufthansa Cargo's fourth airline. Service starts this year and capacity will be split between DHL Express on weekdays and Lufthansa Cargo at the weekend.
"We focus on establishing a balance between quality, service and price," he said. "We can openly admit that we are not the cheapest carrier. It is very costly to maintain our network. We consider ourselves competitive because we offer quality at a good price and access to a very vast network. The statistics show that we are second largest in the world and on the way to becoming world market leader again in around 12 months. Our set-up - Lufthansa Cargo, Swiss World and Jade Cargo International - is very close to surpassing Air France-KLM."
Mr Schäfer said Lufthansa Cargo's expansion plans were drawn up five years ago and the company continues to forge ahead.
"We firmly believe that whoever invests in the crisis will emerge from it even stronger. There are risks, but we are much more flexible to grasp opportunities than before. We have just opened 17 new destinations in Africa and created a small hub in Nairobi."
Established as autonomous operation within the Lufthansa Group in November 1994, Lufthansa Cargo AG last year reported sales revenues of €2.9 billion when it carried 1.7 million tonnes of freight and mail and saw a cargo load factor of 65.8 per cent.
It sold 8.28 billion freight tonne-kilometres of the 12.6 billion it offers.