SINGAPORE - Singapore Airlines (SIA) will operate five freighter planes on behalf of DHL Express by the end of next year as it seeks to further tap on the booming air cargo market.
SIA and DHL said in a joint statement on Thursday afternoon (March 10) that they have signed a crew and maintenance agreement for SIA to deploy five Boeing 777 freighters.
The initial agreement will last for more than four years, with the option to extend further. The value of the agreement is undisclosed.
The planes will sport a dual DHL-SIA livery. They will be based at Changi Airport - a first for DHL. The planes will be operated by SIA pilots on routes to the United States via points in North Asia.
The first aircraft delivery will be in July and the second in October. The remaining three planes are scheduled to be delivered next year.
SIA executive vice-president of commercial Lee Lik Hsin said the new freighter operation will support the fast growing e-commerce segment.
"Basing these freighters at Changi Airport will further reinforce Singapore's position as a key air cargo and e-commerce logistics hub, contributing to its growth and development," he added.
Mr Ken Lee, chief executive of DHL Express Asia Pacific, said the agreement guarantees capacity on DHL's critical routes out of Singapore. It will also give the firm more flexibility to add new routes and optimise aircraft utilisation in response to sudden changes.
The air cargo market had been flourishing even amid the Covid-19 pandemic, driven by increased e-commerce, vaccine and medical equipment transportation, among other factors.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, freighter planes carried about 60 per cent of global air cargo, while passenger planes ferried the remainder in their cargo hold area.
But with the pandemic causing demand for air travel to plunge, freighters assumed even more prominent role in air cargo transportation in the last two years.
SIA currently operates seven Boeing 747-400F freighters.
Last month, it confirmed its order of seven Airbus A350 freighter planes for an undisclosed sum, with an option for the purchase of five more. The new planes will replace the old Boeing cargo planes after deliveries begin in the fourth quarter of 2025.
Independent aviation analyst Brendan Sobie, from consultancy Sobie Aviation, said SIA has been carrying large volumes of cargo for DHL using its own fleet of planes. This agreement will thus help SIA to expand a key relationship, he added.
He also noted that SIA has the capabilities to operate the Boeing 777 freighters given that it already operates Boeing 777 passenger planes.
“Prior to the pandemic, they may not have bid for this work as they don’t have the spare resources in terms of pilots and mechanics,” said Mr Sobie.
“But as it will be some time before SIA gets back to full capacity, particularly with their Boeing 777 fleet, they would be incentivised to bid on this contract and provide a competitive offer.”