The world’s newest cargo airline – Bahrain-based MENA Cargo, a unit of MENA Aerospace Enterprises – began commercial operations from 1 November.
The company plans to tap what it says is a burgeoning air freight market for e-commerce between Asia and the Middle East and Africa.
“We’ve looked at the regional markets; where is the growth, where are the gates to the global markets,” says Mohammed Juman, MENA Aerospace Enterprises founder and managing director.
“The growth we’ve seen is mainly in the Gulf area, Africa and SE Asia. So, our thought process was, let’s try to link these markets and let’s serve these markets.”
MENA will base its cargo operation in Bahrain, but plans to open a hub in Saudi Arabia very soon followed by a Southeast Asian hub in Thailand, Singapore or Malaysia.
The company has transferred its existing air operator’s certificate for a private jet management and charter business to the new venture.
The carrier has one B737-300 freighter, a P2F conversion of a former Southwest Airlines aircraft by Pemco and is in final discussions to secure a second within a year.
MENA Cargo has also made a strategic partnership with Portugal-based EuroAtlantic Airways to support its expansion in South East Asia, Europe and the US.
A one-year charter agreement was signed for a B777-200ER and B767-300ER, both of which are P2F conversions, with the likelihood of more aircraft being added soon, it says.
Negotiations are also said to be underway for an additional B737NG cargo aircraft, which would offer an increased payload with an extended operating range.
To serve the Bahrain market, a B737-8F with a capacity of up to 22 tonnes will be added by January 2022. A further two aircraft of this type are expected to be added to the fleet in the second and third quarters next year.
“The makeup of the fleet will be continually adapted to best serve demand and emerging opportunities,” the company says.
Additional aircraft will be added in the medium term in order to service “the Saudi Arabian and Southeast Asian markets and capitalise on the huge growth of e-commerce occurring throughout the world.”
“Clearly, we are in the right place at the right time,” says Brian Hogan, board member of MENA Aerospace Enterprises and MAE Aircraft Management, and business development independent director.
“Cargo is going through the roof… if we had more planes now we think we could fly them continuously 24 hours a day.”
“We think we’ll have the opportunity to partner with a lot of operators out there with their passenger aircraft in the meantime as a bridge.”
“The strategy is simple but complicated: we can use Bahrain as our hub, have 3-4 aircraft here, move into Saudi, and then move into South East Asia. We haven’t decided yet, but the hub in SE Asia could be Thailand, Singapore or Malaysia.”
Three key technology partners at this stage are Laminaar Aviation Infotech, Awery Aviation Software, and Unilode.