More Cathay freight routes on the horizon

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 October, 2011, 12:00am
 

Emerging airfreight markets in Europe, Africa and Latin America are on the radar for Cathay Pacific as it mulls plans for the launch of new cargo services to a raft of destinations.

Nick Rhodes, director of Cathay Pacific Cargo, said cargo flights to Zaragoza in Spain would start next month following the launch of freighter services to Chengdu.

'We are very keen on Mexico if we can get full traffic rights from the Mexican government, though it is hard to say when that will happen,' he said. 'Colombo in Sri Lanka may be next, therefore, or another point in India, such as Hyderabad.'

Zhengzhou, in China, was another possibility, while destinations in Eastern Europe and South America were 'further down the track' and freight routes to Africa including Nairobi and Johannesburg were also under consideration.

The comments come as a KLM/Martinair/Air France consortium is about to launch joint flights with Kenya Airways between Guangzhou and Nairobi in a partnership that could later include China Southern Airlines, according to Camiel Eurlings chairman of Air France-KLM Cargo.

Eurlings said the so-called Safari route could begin as early as this week, depending on final regulatory approvals. Kenya Airways will charter a Boeing 747-400 freighter from all-cargo airline Martinair for the twice-weekly service that will fly from Guangzhou to Nairobi before continuing to Europe and returning direct to Guangzhou.

Sauda Rajab, general manager for cargo at Kenya Airways, said export growth from Guangzhou and Shenzhen alone to Africa was about 7 per cent a year. Exports from the Pearl River Delta include machinery products and consumer goods, while Kenya focuses on exports of vegetables and flowers.

Eurlings, who was Dutch transport minister until last year, described Nairobi as 'the gateway from Africa to China', and Cathay's Rhodes said the Hong Kong flag carrier shared that optimism.

Aside from Africa, Cathay has ambitions to fly to Guadalajara in Mexico and Brazil. Guadalajara is a hi-tech and electronics equipment manufacturing centre in Mexico, while Rhodes said customers were keen for Cathay to fly to Brazil.

Decisions about where and when to fly would depend upon whether Cathay could secure the necessary traffic rights, as well as the strength of the relative markets.

Cathay will soon take delivery of the first of 10 long-range Boeing 747-8 freighters. The aircraft is capable of carrying 154 tonnes of cargo, 16 per cent more than a 747-400 freighter, while burning less fuel.

'I pick up the keys this week,' Rhodes quipped before flying to the Boeing factory in Seattle. The first Cathay 747-8 was due to be delivered in 2009, but the entire Boeing 747-8 programme, which also includes passenger aircraft, was delayed because of production issues at Boeing.

Four more 747-8 freighters are due to be delivered to the airline this year, followed by five in 2012. Rhodes said the 10 new planes would increase the fleet by 25 per cent.

The extra capacity comes at a time when cargo volumes have shrunk globally as a result of general weakness in demand. Latest figures show the carrier's cargo volumes fell 6.4 per cent to 1.2 million tonnes in the nine months to September as a result of soft demand on the mainland as well as other long-haul destinations.

Thomas Hoang, regional director of cargo marketing at Boeing, said the aircraft manufacturer expected cargo volumes to 'rebound next year', possibly from the second quarter.

Boeing was more optimistic on long-term growth, with cargo volumes between China and Europe climbing 6.9 per cent a year until 2030, while China-US volumes would rise an average of 6.5 per cent.

The biggest market though will be the mainland's domestic cargo sector, where volumes are set to soar 8.7 per cent.

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