Air India (AI, Mumbai Int'l) is working on a business model which could lead to the re-introduction of dedicated freighters into its fleet.

The carrier's Executive Commercial Director (Cargo), Abhay Pathak, told Asia Cargo News that the studies come as demand has outstripped the airline's bellyhold capacity.

“To be honest, freighters are the need of the hour for us,” he said in an interview. “The only thing is, the organization has to make a call on when and how we’d like to go about it. We can really use them for places like Hong Kong Int'l and Shanghai Pudong, as well as connecting Dhaka and Colombo Int'l to the US. We can play a very big role with a hubbing operation. The requirement will not be less than a daily 747 freighter to Europe and the US.”

However, according to the executive, the business model Air India is looking at would not involve it buying any aircraft. Given the longterm liabilities this would expose the carrier to, it is rather looking at the flexibility that lease or charter arrangements can offer.

“If we’re to be more aggressive in the cargo market globally, there is a need for an Indian carrier like us to use freighter aircraft to change the paradigm,” he said. “Belly space can only satisfy the requirements of the market up to a certain extent, but not beyond that.”

Pathak added that Air India Cargo carries approximately 250,000 tonnes of cargo per annum but is looking to increase that to around 350,000 tonnes in the next few years. It is also hoping to implement more product segmenting and to transport more high-yield shipments.

In terms of infrastructure, he said Air India has no capacity issues at its Delhi Int'l hub, where the cargo facility is outsourced and is a joint venture between Delhi International Airport Limited and Cargo Service Center India.