SEATTLE — DHL Express is transferring nine Airbus A300-600 freighters to Europe and replacing them with larger A330-300 freighters because of difficulty securing necessary support services in Asia, said a top executive in the company’s airline operation.
The aircraft being moved are operated by Air Hong Kong, an all-cargo subsidiary of Cathay Pacific that flies regional routes under contract within the DHL (DXE: DHL) express network in Asia.
DHL, as the only airline that utilizes the A300-600 in Asia, no longer enjoys access to a broad ecosystem of services, including maintenance, once available when the aircraft type was in service with multiple airlines. The planes are being relocated to Europe, where they can receive better attention at lower cost, Malcolm Macbeth, senior vice president for global air fleet management, told a small gathering of freighter investors, appraisers, manufacturers and airline executives here.
“The passenger operators have moved on and they don’t fly the aircraft type anymore. So when it comes to all the support services, it gets more difficult in the Asian region,” he elaborated in an interview after the International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading’s panel discussion.
The A300-600 has essentially become obsolete in Asia because there is a lack of specialist firms that train pilots on the aircraft, only one aging flight training simulator and a dearth of mechanics for routine maintenance and heavy-duty inspections, Macbeth told FreightWaves. Service providers have shifted their focus to other aircraft because there aren’t enough A300s in circulation to make money, creating a challenge for DHL to sustain operations.
Macbeth said DHL is about halfway through the fleet transition at Air Hong Kong. The A300-600s will be placed with in-house airline European Air Transport (EAT), based at Leipzig/Halle Airport in Germany, or network partner ASL Aviation Holdings.
EAT operates 23 A300-600s in its fleet and ASL Airlines Ireland has five of the aircraft, according to Planespotters.net. (Ch-aviation reported on Sept. 28 that ASL Airlines took its first A300-600 on lease from DHL Express.)
DHL is sending A330-300 converted freighters, which are common in Asia, to Air Hong Kong to replace the A300-600s. The A330-300 has a gross payload of about 65 tons, 20 tons more than the A300-600, which provides more room for expansion as e-commerce drives growth of DHL’s parcel business.
“It’s basically future proofing the operation in Asia,” said Macbeth.
Cathay Pacific disclosed in March, when it published its 2022 annual results, that it planned to return the nine A300-600 freighters during 2023 and 2024 and get an equal number of secondhand A330s to maintain Air Hong Kong’s fleet size at 15, but didn’t mention the source of the planes or the reason for the change. The A300 freighters have an average of nearly 19 years compared to about 13 years for the A330s, according to industry databases.
DHL owns or leases all the aircraft and subleases them to Air Hong Kong to fly on its behalf. Air Hong Kong, which was the launch partner for the A300-600 freighter, operates scheduled service for DHL between Hong Kong and major cities throughout Asia, including Tokyo and Seoul, South Korea. The aircraft are also used for occasional charter work when not on duty for DHL.
In 2020, Air Hong Kong introduced the A330 into its operations and now has two A330-200 and six -300 freighters. The earlier units replaced Boeing 747-400 freighters. Elbe Flugzeugwerke, an Airbus joint venture, is responsible for the passenger-to-freighter conversions, which involves stripping out the passenger interiors, ruggedizing the airframe and installing a wide cargo door.