A decade of growth
The last decade of the 20th century was marked by a global economic recovery and the dawn of the internet age; a revolution that strongly contributed to the globalization of commercial exchanges. There were also, however, some clouds on the horizon as the early nineties were marked by the first Gulf War that severely impacted fuel prices; one of aviation’s primary resources. Cargolux had positioned itself as a leader in the industry and a pioneer in technological advancement. After 20 years in operation, the company had already gained worldwide recognition as an expert in its field.
First to fly the 747-400F
On December 5th, 1990, Cargolux took the major decision to place an order for a new generation Boeing freighter; the 747-400F. The airline signed a contract with the manufacturer for three B747-400 purpose-built freighters with an option on three more. This aircraft was a technological leap forward as it was designed with a digital flight deck and systems, eliminating the need for Flight Engineers on board during the flight and therefore reducing the crew manning requirements. It was also foreseen with a longer range of 1852km, enabling it to fly non-stop from Europe to the West Coast of the United States without a technical stop en-route. The aircraft with an additional 21 tons of payload, was also much quieter and on average 18% more fuel efficient than its predecessor, a significant advantage given the current oil crisis. It featured 4 different air-conditioned zones, essential for transportation of perishables and live animals.
Cargolux was originally the fifth operator on the list for the delivery of the new aircraft type but fate decided otherwise. After several other airlines declined to take delivery or shied away from their agreement with the manufacturer; in 1993, Cargolux became the first carrier to fly the 747-400 freighter. Its maiden flight was operated from Seattle-Tacoma to Luxembourg, loaded with 116 tons of cargo. LX-FCV touched down in Luxembourg on November 17th, 1993 to an enthusiastic crowd of officials and employees, proud to welcome the aircraft and begin Cargolux’s new chapter as a modern and efficient all-cargo carrier.
For the next few years, as business picked up and the company developed, the 747-400 freighter became increasingly indissociable from Cargolux’s operation, and the second –400 was delivered on December 8th,1993. Less than two years later, in June 1995, the decision was taken to purchase a third one. Interestingly, this particular aircraft was supposed to be delivered to one of the original launch customers Air France who eventually decided against taking it. After a few months without an operator, Boeing offered to sell it to Cargolux who managed to negotiate a significant discount since the freighter had been parked in the desert for months. The aircraft, baptized LX-ICV, was delivered at the end of the same year, on September 12th, 1995.
A new and improved Cargo Center
The company’s rapid growth in the 90s was supported by the inauguration, in 1996, of Luxair Cargo's brand-new Cargo Center at its headquarters in Luxembourg. The state-of-the-art facility was specially designed for cargo aircraft and boasted a whopping 8 parking places, vastly improving the loading and offloading of shipments. Cargolux was increasingly recognized in the industry as a provider of niche services and the building was designed to cater for all types and forms of freight. To ensure optimum handling, the equipment included pens for live animals, temperature-controlled spaces, outsize facilities, and secured storage spaces for valuable or hazardous items.
This development allowed Luxembourg airport to reinforce its position as a European cargo hub and establish Cargolux as Europe’s number one all-cargo carrier. The airport also increasingly adapted its infrastructure to meet the requirements of the jumbo jets. The runway was extended to over 4 kilometers and the airport was certified to CAT IIIB, to enable takeoffs and landings in low visibility conditions. All these improvements allowed the airline to look towards the future with confidence and continue to spread its wings worldwide.
A growing business
After the airline's successful launch of 747-400 operation, the decision was made to invest further in that model and two additional freighters joined the fleet in the second half of 1997. Buoyed by the global economic boom and the commercial potential of the wide-body aircraft, Cargolux placed an order for a further 5 Boeing 747-400F with Rolls Royce RB211-524H2-T engines and 2 options. As the airline grew steadily and business expanded worldwide, so too did the headcount. In 1997, the number of employees hit the 1,000 mark across the network, an impressive feat for what began as a start-up in the heart of Europe.
The end of the 90s also marked the beginning of process digitalization and the emergence of the internet bubble. These elements strongly contributed to the strong economy of the decade and the increasingly global trade lanes. Amid the favorable business conditions, fleet and personnel expansion, the airline also underwent an administrative change; in September 1997, SAir Logistics AG acquired Lufthansa’s 24.5 per cent shares in Cargolux. The same year, the company’s results soared to a record 30.7 million USD profit, four times the amount generated the previous year. In 1998, SAir Logistics increased its shares to 33.7%.
The decision was rapidly taken to transform Cargolux into a 747-400 only operator by the year 2000; and the three remaining 747-200Fs were phased out. In 1998, the company’s sixth B747-400F (LX-MCV) was delivered and an order placed for two additional 747-400s to be delivered after 2000. By 1999, Cargolux accepted the delivery of its latest order; 4 B747-400Fs (LX-NCV, LX-OCV, LX-PCV and LX-RCV). Cargolux’s ambition is fulfilled by the end of the year, the company has established itself as a single aircraft type operator.
With record results and Cargolux’s reputation for service excellence now well-established in the air cargo industry, the company decided to join the Association of European Airlines (AEA) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA). These associations, combined with the growing relationship with Boeing, contributed to cement Cargolux’s position as a key player after just 25 years of existence. Cargolux definitely was millennium ready.