DHL Considers Short-Haul Widebody Overnight Flights for Fleet Renewal in Europe

By Ivan PetrenkoJun 23, 2024 20:30 PMNews
yellow and red DHL plane on airport during daytime
yellow and red DHL plane on airport during daytime. Source: unsplash

DHL, the world’s third-largest cargo airline, is exploring new strategies for fleet renewal, focusing on short-haul widebody overnight flights within Europe. This move aims to optimize efficiency and address the challenges of fleet aging and availability. Public Affairs Director Lorenzo Van de Pol shared these insights in an interview with Simple Flying.

DHL, along with UPS and FedEx, prioritizes late evening and early morning operations to ensure next-day deliveries. These integrators rely on a network that facilitates package transfers between long-haul and short-haul flights, maximizing aircraft utilization and minimizing empty departures.

Van de Pol explained that DHL’s European network primarily operates older aircraft with low utilization rates, typically flying to a hub and then on short-haul legs. This strategy allows the airline to manage the limited availability of new cargo aircraft, as direct replacements for older models like the A300 are scarce. The closest alternative, the A330, offers 20% more capacity, which is not always needed.

The aging cargo fleet across DHL, FedEx, and UPS includes many older aircraft types uncommon in passenger airlines. Despite their age, these aircraft form the backbone of the express freighter network in Europe and North America. However, maintaining older aircraft will eventually become too costly, necessitating fleet renewal.

DHL faces fewer challenges renewing its intercontinental fleet due to higher utilization rates on long-haul routes. The company operates 30 Boeing 777 aircraft, leveraging their significant cargo capacity. These aircraft are occasionally used for European night flights, such as an AeroLogic 777 departing Brussels Airport at 11:30 PM, carrying cargo for both European and Asian destinations.

This symbiotic use of long-haul aircraft on short-haul flights helps DHL navigate operational restrictions at key European airports like Brussels. The company is investigating how to integrate newer intercontinental aircraft into its European network, despite the complexity of such changes.

Noise restrictions at airports in Europe, North America, and Australia pose additional challenges for DHL. Environmental permits at airports like Brussels and Amsterdam’s Schiphol limit nighttime growth. DHL advocates for the Balanced Approach procedure, which includes noise reduction at the source, land-use planning, flight procedure adjustments, and operating restrictions as a last resort.

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