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Cargo carrier buys two 747s

Al Ain-based all-cargo transporter reacts to increased demand for freight services in charter market.

Midex Airlines, the all-cargo carrier based in Al Ain, has bought two used Boeing 747-200s to meet a surge in demand in the charter market. The carrier, which calls Al Ain its "mother area" but has a base at Dubai International Airport and is opening a base in Sharjah, has increased its fleet to nine after buying the freighters from Air France.

The planes are to be delivered within weeks. The deliveries will help Midex serve emerging destinations such as Afghanistan and Iraq. It is taking delivery of the aircraft even as it has curtailed services to Paris and other cities due to a glut of cargo capacity from passengers airlines. Where once Midex flew daily from Al Ain to Paris, it now operates only once a week on that route. It has postponed plans to open cargo routes to Mumbai, Cochin, Dhaka and Istanbul.

"The market has changed with the recession, but we've developed our charter divisions and it has been excellent," said Jassim al Bastaki, the airline's director general. Air freight recovered strongly in November, with Middle East volumes rising the fastest of any region worldwide at 21.5 per cent, data from the International Air Transport Association showed. However, rapid expansion among Middle East passenger airlines has increased cargo competition for Midex on some of its traditional routes, leading it to look at untapped markets, Mr al Bastaki said.

The 747s bring the total number of Boeing jumbo jets in the Midex fleet to three. The remaining six planes are Airbus A300 freighters. The 747s were bought because of the popularity of the plane's nose-loaders among shippers, Mr al Bastaki said. The airline is carrying about 150 tonnes of cargo a day through its charters, down from an initial forecast in 2008 of 200 tonnes a day. The focus on Iraq and Afghanistan suggests that reconstruction efforts and budding consumer demand in those once-closed markets are providing a boon for cargo and passenger airlines willing to face the risks. Midex joins Gulf Air of Bahrain, Elite Aviation of Abu Dhabi and RAK Airways in launching or planning to launch services.

Midex has weathered the economic downturn by extending its services to Libya, Germany, Korea and China, Mr al Bastaki said. The performance of Midex Airlines will be keenly followed by Abu Dhabi's aviation planners, who have high hopes for stimulating business out of Al Ain airport. With its central location between Abu Dhabi, Dubai and ports in Oman, Al Ain is seen as a key undervalued resource by Abu Dhabi Airports Company and Mubadala Development, which are behind plans for a US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn) aviation cluster at the airport, encompassing cargo operations, logistics and high-end aircraft parts manufacturing.

The site was chosen for Mubadala's Strata Manufacturing business so it could fly finished products to Airbus in Toulouse 24 hours a day without delay, officials have said. Midex has found the airfield ideal because it is central and uncongested and is the only UAE airport to be free of fog, Mr al Bastaki said. @Email:igale@thenational.ae

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