Emirates considers A380 for SAR
Hong Kong and Shanghai are likely to be two of the first airports to land Airbus's massive new A380 freighter when it is rolled off the assembly line, according to the director of cargo for Emirates.
Ram Menen, whose company was among the first to commit to the 150-tonne capacity A380 due for delivery in 2008, said the two China hubs were a natural fit for the aircraft.
The company started flying a wet-leased B747-400F to Shanghai late last month, which Mr Menen said was flying out fully loaded.
'If you asked me today where we will start flying the A380 freighter, I would say it will probably replace the 747Fs, but we are still six years away,' Mr Menen said.
'Hong Kong would be a definite candidate but a lot depends on the migration of the manufacturing sector.'
Mr Menen said the global production shift is such that the technology sector in constantly finding new manufacturing bases with cheaper labour, such as the ongoing repositioning from Shenzhen into the Yangtze River delta.
So the A380's calls in Hong Kong will be contingent upon Shenzhen continuing to be competitive as a manufacturing base.
'We are keeping our potential destinations for the A380 fluid at this point,' said Mr Menen. 'The good thing about a freighter is you can fly to any airport capable of handling your aircraft. You are not restricted to traditional passenger routes. We are an international conveyor belt, from factories to shelf.'
Emirates is unique in that it derives just under 18 per cent of revenue from cargo despite carrying 80 per cent of air freight in the belly of its passenger fleet. Globally, a little under 50 per cent of cargo is carried by freighters.
The Dubai-based airline manages this equation because it does not fly narrow-bodied aircraft; Mr Menen describes its passenger fleet as 'freighters in disguise'. For example, the B777 passenger jet it flies to Hong Kong can carry, depending on passenger configuration, up to 28 tonnes of freight in its belly. Hong Kong generates about 16 per cent of its global cargo revenue.
Mr Menen said Hong Kong would continue to be a key cargo market for Emirates, but that he wouldn't be surprised if the opening of Baiyun International airport, in Guangzhou, changed the flow of air freight in the region.
'We are very committed to Hong Kong with our freighter and passenger flights but there will definitely be opportunities at Baiyun when it opens next year,' he said.
'A this point in time Guangzhou really make sense for us because a lot of that region's cargo comes through Hong Kong.
'Most of the cargo that comes from the Guangzhou area is actually controlled by freight forwarders in Hong Kong,' he said. 'But with Baiyun opening next year, and China Southern looking seriously to get into the freight market, I think you will see a few shifts in the structure of the market.'
For Emirates, though, it will be one step at a time on the mainland.
'Our plans for China are big, but at the same time we are just in the process of building up the market,' Mr Menen said. 'So we want to get comfortable first in Shanghai.'
As the former president of The International Air Cargo Association, the world's biggest organisation dedicated solely to the transport of air freight, Mr Menen has more than a passing interest in the security initiatives enveloping the industry since 911.
He said the industry, particularly in the US, was going through a steep learning curve, one which Emirates, as an airline based in the security-conscious Middle East, has experience with.
'What is happening in the US at the moment is they are going from virtually nothing to the other extreme. The directives swing like a pendulum - one day they want to ban all belly freight - the next day its okay again,' he said.
'The good thing is that there is now consultation going on in the industry and whatever comes out will be best practice.
' But whatever is decided can not bring commerce grinding to a halt.'