The increasingly attractive lures of the Middle East airfreight sector again became apparent last month as MIDEX Airlines launched operations in the region. Signified by the all cargo carrier's position as the UAE's only privately owned scheduled national airline, the new arrival looks certain to capture much interest from domestic and international industry insiders alike.
Marking the occasion by showcasing its capabilities at the Dubai Air Show last November, intrigue towards the airline has been mounting since. Part of the MIDEX international group, an integrated French logistics company much in the mould of such giants as DHL and UPS, the airline is backed by notable financial and reputable strength.
"This is the first time the MIDEX Group has placed its branding on an airline," says Jassim Al Bastaki, director, MIDEX Airlines. "We initiated operations towards the end of December and have begun serving six destinations from our new hub at Al Ain International Airport. Our motto is ‘It is on time or it is on us', which promises a commitment to our customers that we will be on time. We have taken every possible measure to ensure our new operations live up to this promise.
A two year period was taken to prepare for the recent launch, a fact that suggests no stone has been left unturned in its quest to create a seamless airfreight operation. The first phase of the new set up sees MIDEX serve six destinations in total from its base in Al Ain using a fleet of six Airbus A300B4-203Fs. This includes two locations in India; Mumbai and Kochin, Dhaka in Bangladesh, Istanbul in Turkey, Beirut in Lebanon and Orly in France; home of the MIDEX Group.
A common concept, MIDEX joins a host of other European forwarders that use the Middle East as a gateway between the East and West. Delivering a combination of general cargo and courier items, the airline believes roughly 30% of goods coming from the Asian destinations will be distributed in the Middle East, with the 70% remaining majority being delivered across Europe and onto the US. "Most of the cargo arriving from Bombay and Dhaka are textiles and garments, while from Cochin, it is largely fresh fruits and vegetables, which are catered for through temperature controlled storage areas onboard our Airbus aircrafts," says Al Bastaki.
"There is strategic planning behind every destination we serve. Al Ain, for example allows us to easily distribute goods across the UAE and Oman. Beirut allows us to serve Lebanon, Jordan and the Damascus region, Istanbul gives us good access to Eastern Europe and, of course, Orly, which is in close proximity to Paris, allows us connections to central Europe and the US," he notes.
By offering daily scheduled flights from Al Ain airport to each destination, the carrier has entered the market in a relatively unique format in comparison to previous newcomers, which have tended to begin operations with a softer charter approach. MIDEX's entrance is also distinguishable by the fact the airline fully owns its fleet. "One of MIDEX Airlines key strengths is that we own our fleet. By not leasing or borrowing from the bank, we are able to carefully monitor our exact costs and track both our freight and our rates," says Al Bastaki.
The Airbus A200B4-203F aircraft is capable of carrying up to 45 tonnes of cargo and comes with an automated landing system. The six aircrafts combined therefore allow MIDEX to offer a total capacity of 200 tonnes daily on a network that stretches from Al Ain either side to Orly and Dhaka.
"In the past, these routes have been operated using Russian aircrafts such as the Illyushin and Antonov, but over time they have stopped operating and it has not become so possible for them to land. Airfreight demand now is geared towards smaller more efficient models such as the A200B4-203F," Al Bastaki points out. "As is clearly evident today, the UAE's economy is booming and there is a lot of demand for exports from various regions. We have carried out extensive research and believe this will only continue to grow.
MIDEX purchased the six Airbus models from an undisclosed American company going into bankruptcy. As a result, the airline inherited 54 mainly US pilots, which it believes will give operations a smoother start. MIDEX has also been busy signing agreements with Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC) for ground handling operations at Al Ain, Gulf Aircraft Maintenance Company (GAMCO) for general maintenance.
Adding further solid foundations, the company has acquired a considerable spare parts inventory for its fleet of Airbus models. This includes a spare engine that is intended to ensure aircrafts will never have to remain grounded awaiting the arrival of fresh parts.
"There has been a lot of involvement from a number of different parties in order to launch this airline," states Al Bastaki. "From selecting an airport as our hub to gaining government approval and signing agreements with technicians and engineers, the last two years have proved very hectic indeed."
The courier side of the business MIDEX Airlines was able to address more easily. To ensure transportation and delivery of all parcels and cargo to the door of the consignee, the airline uses the network of its subdivision MIDEX (International Express Courier & Cargo). Reportedly the world's fifth largest integrator, the company has 25,000 professionals in 32 countries worldwide. This in particular allows shipments to be custom cleared with systematic proof of delivery across Europe, US and Canada and means the airline enjoys use of the company's inhouse developed track and trace system.
The larger MIDEX Group picture is furthermore impressive. With a turnover of approximately US$5.2 billion, the group is the exclusive agent for the likes of La Poste, Royal Mail Group, Swiss Post, ABX in Belgium and Russia's Garantpost.
"I have been involved with this project right from the beginning. My relationship with MIDEX first began over 16 years ago and since then I have been very eager for the company to establish operations in the Middle East," explains Al Bastaki.
"When MIDEX finally decided to establish its business in the region, there was a choice between placing headquarters in the UAE or Lebanon. Today, the UAE is a safe and secure country with all the right conditions for business to thrive. The government supports the business world, they encourage businessmen to start operations here and offer flexibility. These were the key decisions behind selecting the UAE," he says.
With the first phase of operations successfully underway, MIDEX is wasting no time in implementing the second phase of its business - expanding its fleet and destination offerings.
During last year's Dubai Air Show, the airline signed a multi million dollar to purchase one Boeing B747 Nose-Loader from Martin Air. The goliath freighter alone almost matches the combined capacity of the six Airbus aircraft, a staggering fact that is amplified by the model's equally impressive long haul range.
"The jumbo freighter has a capacity of 105 tonnes and a range of 10 to 12 hours flight time. It will be employed on the daily Al Ain-Orly-Al Alin route and will carry what cargo and parcels the fleet of six Airbus A200B4s bring from different destinations in India and Bangladesh," Al Bastaki says.
"As a nose loader, it allows us to take on much bigger and more diversified cargo. When it is operational, we shall be able to offer even better quality services at even better rates," he adds.
Another key factor behind the purchase of the Boeing aircraft is MIDEX's aspirations for the market in China. Targeting a third quarter launch this year, MIDEX intends to use the aircraft's long haul capabilities to fly direct to the region from the UAE. A more distant future aspiration revolves around the forthcoming airport at Jebel Ali, which Al Bastaki believes could be pivotal for both the industry and MIDEX Airlines.
"Dubai Logistics City and the Dubai World Central project are leading examples to the rest of the world just how important the UAE will be as a transport hub. It proves demand for airfreight will continue to escalate in the region and the future for the industry is bright," ponders Al Bastaki.
"We plan to have a presence at the site to complement our existing base in Al Ain and our expanding operations. We also plan to have a fleet of 14 aircrafts with a mix of Boeing and Airbus models. All the hard work and preparation gone into launching MIDEX Airlines is beginning to take shape and we look forward to a bright future in the Middle East," he concludes.