A new cargo airline based in the United Kingdom kicked off operations Monday with a single freighter and the prestige of being the only Boeing 747 operator in the country.

A freight recession would seem to be an inopportune time to launch a single-aircraft airline, but the founders of One Air sound confident the venture will attract shipper interest. 

One Air said it completed a charter flight Monday evening for conglomerate Shandong Glory from Jinan, China, to London Heathrow Airport. 

One Air is using a 747-400 jet, which started life in 1991 carrying passengers for Air Canada before being converted to a cargo configuration, to perform unplanned charters and transport service for airlines and logistics companies that need dedicated airlift. It eventually plans to become a scheduled carrier, Chief Operating Officer Chris Hope said via email through a media representative.

“As well as ad hoc charter flights, we are now also commencing a regular flying program from Asia Pacific to Europe with two 747 freighter flights per week. Work is also under way to add a second 747F to our fleet, which we hope will enter service in early Q4. We are delighted to be open for business,” Hope said in the launch announcement.

Industry experts say airlines generally do best with at least six to eight planes to better spread out fixed costs for maximum operational efficiency and cover contingencies such as mechanical breakdowns and scheduled maintenance. The company will likely be hard-pressed to generate a positive return in the short term with demand down nearly 10% in 16 months, rates 50% lower than a year ago and many airlines parking older jets such as the 747-400. But that could change if market conditions improve over the next year and service is good. 

One factor favoring the new company is the recent reduction in large freighters and 747 passenger jets in the U.K. Last year, AirBridgeCargo was forced to shut down its U.K. operation and stop flying 17 Boeing 747 cargo jets because of ownership ties to Russia and Western sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine. And CargoLogicAir, also affiliated with Russia’s Volga-Dnepr Group, and its two 747-400 freighters ceased operation late last year.

On June 13, the U.S. Department of Transportation granted One Air permission to conduct cargo service to the U.S. for two years while it undertakes a full review of the foreign carrier permit.

“It will help fill the shortfall in air cargo capacity generated by the demise of the U.K.’s only independent cargo freighter operator following enforced closure by sanction authorities, and provide vital cargo capacity on routes with the U.K.’s main trading partners. As trade recovers post pandemic and re-establishes a new normal by adapting to geopolitical issues, secure and reliable air freight logistics and heavy lift capability continues to be vitally important nationally and internationally,” the company said in its application.

One Air’s first commercial flight receives a water cannon-salute at London Heathrow airport. (Photo: One Air)

One Air is leasing the 747 freighter from Aerotranscargo FZE, a cargo airline based in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, owned by minority shareholder (49%) and nonexecutive director Guneet Mirchandani. CEO Paul Bennett is listed as One Air’s majority owner. 

The airline said in a recent news release that the second freighter will come from Aerotranscargo. It eventually intends to acquire more modern aircraft, such as the Boeing 777 freighter, according to the filing. Bennett said the company has the financial resources to “grow in line with the level of demand we see.”

Bennett has worked for several U.K.-based cargo airlines and charter brokers, including Chapman Freeborn. In 2009, he founded Sky Cargo Charters, which was rebranded a second time as Air One Aviation Ltd in 2020. 

One Air’s ownership structure is connected to partner businesses.

Aerotranscargo is incorporated under a company by a similar name in Moldova, in which Mirchandani owns a 49% stake, and has six 747-400s in its fleet. One of those planes is currently under a services contract with Emirates. Mirchandani, an Indian and U.K. citizen, also owns 80% of Air One Aviation, a U.K.-based sales agent for Aerotranscargo and two small cargo airlines in Sharjah and Romania, according to its website. One Air CEO Bennett owns the remaining shares of Air One, which is serving as One Air’s global sales agent. 

Reuters reported in September that Aerotranscargo was pursuing a debt sale to be used for fleet expansion.

One Air’s affiliation with a larger aviation ownership group might enable it to gain some scale in terms of spare parts pooling, engines or maintenance, but the company has not indicated such linkages exist yet.

The new airline received its air operator certificate and operating license from U.K. authorities in the spring. Last year, One Air crews conducted proving runs that demonstrated they know how to safely operate the 747-400. 

One Air said it has 130 employees, including 40 pilots with experience at major airlines such as Cathay Pacific, Emirates and Norwegian.

COO Hope has many years of experience in the passenger sector holding management positions at easyJet, Flybe and other carriers. 

 Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper articles by Eric Kulisch.

Contact Reporter: ekulisch@freightwaves.com 


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