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Three Airbus A340-600 passenger planes find new lease of life as freighters     

Specialist British air cargo airline European Cargo has announced that it is preparing to take delivery of three additional Airbus A340-600 freighters later in 2024. The trio of aircraft are all former passenger-carrying variants of the quad-jet that have been specially adapted for the carriage of freight only on their main decks.  

The carrier, which specializes in cargo-only operations between Bournemouth International Airport (BOH) located on the south coast of England and China, will add its fourth A340-600 converted freighter in July 2024, with two more to follow before October 2024. 

The carrier uses its three current A340-600s for e-commerce flights on routes from Bournemouth to Chengdu, Bournemouth to Haikou direct, and Haikou to Bournemouth via Vienna. At the time of writing, the airline has not confirmed on which routes the additional three aircraft will be utilized. 

European Cargo

European’s A340-600 long-haul freighter aircraft offer a payload capacity of 76 tonnes and a cargo capacity of 440 cu m. The aircraft have been converted with a bespoke in-cabin pod containment system to add to belly capacity, but they do not feature a main deck cargo door. Instead, a unique roller-floor system is fitted to ease the loading and unloading of packages/boxes of goods along the main deck via the former passenger doors.    

European Cargo

The company’s current fleet comprises A340-600s G-ECLB, G-FCLC, and G-ECLN. The provenance of these aircraft, all of which are around 18 years old, can be traced back to Virgin Atlantic, to whom they were originally registered as G-VFIT, G-VRED, and G-VWEB respectively.       

European Cargo has formed a close collaboration with Cargo First, the dedicated freight-handling organization of Bournemouth Airport’s owners, the British group Regional and City Airports (RCA). RCA also owns the airports of Coventry, Exeter, and Norwich, as well as operating FBO (fixed base operator) executive jet handling facilities located at Birmingham, Bournemouth, Exeter, and Liverpool airports. 

The collaboration between the two firms has witnessed a rapid rise in European Cargo’s operation over the past twelve months, the success of which now necessitates the three additional aircraft being brought online. To meet this rise, since 2023 Cargo First has recruited 15 new members of staff to cover warehousing, aircraft handling, and security roles. 

The two companies have announced that they are pitching Bournemouth Airport as an alternative to the other constrained London airport hubs, at a time when the Red Sea shipping crisis is helping to drive air cargo demand between China and Europe upwards, with the northern autumn air cargo peak season fast approaching. 

European Cargo

“We recently celebrated the first anniversary of flights from Bournemouth to Chengdu and in our first year operated almost 300 flights, carrying some 20,000 tonnes of cargo,” said European Cargo’s Chief Executive Jason Holt. “With our fourth fully converted long-haul freighter expected to enter service in July and two more by October, we see continued growing interest in our aircraft and services.”  

“We continue to gear up to handle the autumn peak and accompanying additional services coming on stream in the next few months,” Holt added. 

Bournemouth Airport managing director Steve Gill said the airport is also looking at longer-term infrastructure investment to add more dedicated cargo facilities. 

“Our collaboration with European Cargo has established Bournemouth as a reliable and cost-effective hub for e-commerce and other air freight into the UK, with a proven track record of delivering a highly efficient service for time-sensitive consignments for our customers,” Gill said.  

He added: “With European Cargo’s additional freighters coming on stream shortly and the constraints facing other UK hubs, we see a significant opportunity to grow the market further as we ramp up for the peak season. Our partnership with European Cargo has turned Bournemouth into a reliable and cost-effective hub for e-commerce and other types of air cargo in the UK, with a proven track record of delivering highly efficient service for our clients’ urgent shipments.”  

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