Abu Dhabi's Maximus Air Cargo is evaluating a purchase of two to three Boeing 747s as part of a strategy to build its business outside the capital.
Maximus weighs major freigther purchase
Abu Dhabi's Maximus Air Cargo is weighing a plan to spend US$500 million (Dh1.83bn) on Boeing's latest jumbo jets, which would make it the first Middle East airline to buy the 747-8.
The acquisition plans are part of a strategy to build its cargo business out of Abu Dhabi and lease out its aircraft to carriers in the region and Asia.
Maximus is evaluating a purchase of two or three 747s, said Fathi Buhazza, the chief executive, who added the company was still deciding whether to choose the new plane or Boeing's older and less expensive version of the jumbo.
"We are looking at 2012 for a 747 type aircraft," Mr Buhazza said. "It could be the 747-400, it could be 747-8, which is the new aircraft. We are in the planning stage but by the end of the year Maximus will reveal its long-term plans."
An order for the 747-8 would be a huge boost for Boeing, which has struggled to attract orders amid competition from the Airbus A380 and its own 777 aircraft.
"It's a very limited market," Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with the Teal Group, said of the large airliner market. Mr Aboulafia estimates Boeing has spent $5bn on the 747-8 programme.
The US aircraft maker's latest version of the jumbo jet has been stretched by 5.6 metres, features a more aerodynamic wing and is priced at between $180m and $190m, or an estimated $150m to $160m after standard industry discounts. The older 747-400 would cost from $35m to $45m.
To date only one Middle East company, the leasing company DAE Capital in Dubai, is a customer of the 747-8 freighter, with orders for 15 out of 107 total orders. It is expected to lease some of the aircraft to Emirates Airline's SkyCargo division.
Maximus is increasingly looking to "wet lease" its planes to other airlines, in which it provides the crew, maintenance and insurance of the aircraft, Mr Buhazza said.
It wet leases cargo aircraft to Etihad Airways and expects to lease other aircraft as its fleet grows. It is also considering acquiring passenger aircraft for the first time to lease to airlines, Mr Buhazza said.
The leasing model would also broaden the Maximus client base around the region and lessen the role of the UAE Government, which currently accounts for half of its revenues including flights for the military, the royal horse stables and other government agencies.
Maximus operates a fleet of eight aircraft, comprising Airbus A300-600s freighters, the Lockheed L383 Hercules and two Russian types, the Antonov 124 and the Ilyushin 76.
Its fleet will soon grow to 11 aircraft after the company said last month it would buy three Airbus passenger aircraft from Japan Airlines for a total investment of Dh350m, and have the planes converted in Germany for cargo flights.
The three Airbus A300-600 planes are between 9 and 11 years old and are set to arrive in Abu Dhabi by November. Maximus is heavily marketing to place the aircraft with air operators in the GCC, north Africa or possibly Asia, Mr Buhazza said.