UPDATE 1-Malaysian air cargo carrier profits from soaring demand for medical gloves

(Adds detail about demand increase)

KUALA LUMPUR, May 20 (Reuters) - Global demand for safety gear has helped Malaysia’s state-owned air cargo carrier MAB Kargo record “impressive” profits since February by exporting products from the world’s biggest producer of medical gloves, its CEO said.

MAB Kargo had raised freight rates by as much as 50% in some cases and added capacity on high-demand routes as the coronavirus pandemic also sparked high demand for face masks and medical gowns, Chief Executive Ibrahim Mohamed Salleh told Reuters.

“I can only say profitability has increased noticeably. Whilst I cannot share the numbers, I would say it is impressive,” Ibrahim said in a phone interview.

Malaysia’s medical glove exports are expected to jump about 32% to 225 billion pieces this year, the government said, while the gloves association said supplies were being urgently air-lifted to Europe, Australia, Canada and America as customers did not want to wait for the usual sea route.

MAB Kargo’s jump in performance comes as sister company Malaysia Airlines has been forced to ground most of its planes as the coronavirus pandemic hammered global travel.

The cargo arm typically contributes 10%-15% of group revenue to holding company Malaysia Aviation Group, but has contributed up to 25% in the past few months as demand has increased by as much as 50%, Ibrahim said.

Freight rates have risen by up to 50% since mid-March, and the carrier had converted a few passenger aircraft to move cargoes as well operating its three freighter aircraft in the absence of belly cargo space.

“Rates have risen quite substantially, to the point that it is profitable to operate an A330 passenger aircraft filled with about 20 tonnes of cargo back and forth,” he said, referring to the wide-body airliner made by Airbus.

The company also sent another wide-body Airbus A380 passenger plane to London with e-commerce goods from Guangzhou last month. (Reporting by Liz Lee; Editing by Richard Pullin)