Curfews hold back growth in air cargo

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 October, 2011, 12:00am


Night curfews and a shortage of take-off and landing slots are hampering the development of courier air cargo operations on the mainland, express freight airlines have complained.

Carriers said the problem is severe in western provinces where the infrastructure for night-time cargo operations is lacking.

Li Dongqi, president of SF Airlines, said a midnight-to-6am curfew 'seriously lowers operating efficiencies for firms like us. Business volumes are very low - time slots are the constraining factor'. SF Airlines, the air carrier subsidiary of Shenzhen-based courier company SF Express, has grown significantly in the past two years.

'In the west, we haven't seen the right infrastructure.'

He said the carrier handled about 210,000 tonnes of express shipments so far this year using a fleet of 15 chartered freighters including 34-tonne-capacity Boeing 757s and Boeing 737s, capable of carrying 20 tonnes. The carrier also has a strategic partnership with China Cargo Airlines. Li said the airline wanted to expand its air express operations to Hong Kong and Taiwan following the launch of a Singapore and Malaysian operation, although it was 'not ready' for 'transocean business'.

Li's views were echoed by other express cargo operators.

Su Guoxin, chief executive of Donghai Airlines, said: 'There are still a lot of constraints in terms of airport infrastructure.'

Gao Pei, executive vice-president of China Cargo Airlines, said: 'We are also actively thinking about expanding in central and western China but we see several issues.'

Gao said while provincial governments were keen for China Cargo and other domestic airlines to establish air cargo hubs in the west, the curfew and a lack of stable freight volumes constrained expansion. 'We hope these bottlenecks can be addressed.'

Su said competition between carriers meant it was hard to fix higher freight rates and hoped consolidation would help improve yields and slot availability.

Shan Daxin, vice-president of marketing for Yangtze River Express Airlines, said these issues had developed because of rapid growth in airfreight demand as electronics and other high-tech manufacturers moved into western cities such as Chongqing and Chengdu. But poor economic conditions in North America and Europe meant firms such as Apple and Dell 'don't have as much cargo as anticipated'.

By comparison, Gao said, domestic air cargo demand had 'increased significantly' so far this year and China Cargo controlled about 30 per cent of the total airfreight volumes in Shanghai. This is despite just 1.1 per cent growth in overall mainland domestic air cargo volumes in the first nine months, according to figures from the Civil Aviation Administration of China.

Some of the issues listed by the cargo carriers were recognised by Sha Hongjiang, a department director in the CAAC, who said the shortage of take-off and landing slots 'was a big problem'.