China Postal Airlines, the express courier division of China Post, has confirmed plans for an almost sixfold increase in its air-freighter fleet as it targets expansion of domestic and international operations.
Li Yufeng, the airline's general manager, said the carrier aims to expand its current fleet of 16 cargo aircraft freighters to 46 aircraft by 2014 and 90 by 2019. The airline, which was set up as a 51-49 per cent joint venture between the mainland Postal Bureau and China Southern Airlines, provides freighter capacity for China Courier Service's express mail service (EMS).
Li said the expansion was needed to cope with the growth in volume of EMS business which was expanding by around 24 per cent a year.
Commenting on that growth, Wang Xiangping, executive vice-president of GCW Consulting, expressed the hope that China Postal Airlines 'becomes China's FedEx'.
Li said the airline's EMS freight volumes were expected to top 400,000 tonnes by 2014 and 980,000 tonnes by 2019. To meet this increase the airline planned to have 52 bases and Boeing 737, 757 and 767 aircraft by the end of the 13th five-year plan.
He gave no detailed breakdown of the planned fleet composition, but the airline's existing fleet comprises 16 Boeing 737 freighters which can carry around 20 tonnes and were all converted from their original passenger configuration.
Li said the biggest challenge facing the airline was having the volume of business to justify the fleet expansion. But he said the move to expand to 90 aircraft showed its confidence in the market, although he conceded fleet growth 'may be adjusted depending on the market situation'.
Aviation industry insiders said the airline could also face a challenge securing enough aircraft, including secondhand Boeing 757s and 767s for conversion from passenger aeroplanes to freighters. A raft of mainland carriers including Air China, China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines and Xiamen Airlines, operate a total of about 50 passenger 757s and 767s, which would have a capacity to transport 40 to 50 tonnes when converted to freighters.
And while Air China and China Southern Airlines said they would phase their Boeing 757s out of service, insiders said further aircraft would have to be acquired from foreign carriers if China Postal Airlines was to meet its expansion needs depending on the final fleet mix.
'The Boeing 757 converted freighter is a popular medium-range choice among US courier companies such as UPS and FedEx because it can carry a relatively large payload of almost 40 tonnes over quite long distances of around 6,000 kilometres. Any secondhand passenger aircraft that come onto the market are quickly snapped up for conversion,' said one aviation industry source.
Joseph Reinherz, managing director of M&B Conversions, an offshoot of Israel's Bedek Aviation Group, which focuses on modifying Boeing 767s to freighters, said the supply of 767s for conversion was tight. But he said this would change with the arrival of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and as airlines retired older aircraft.
China Southern Airlines is due to take delivery of its first 787 in July next year, while mainland airlines have a total of 35 787s on order. Reinherz said his firm was in talks with China Postal Airlines and hoped to secure a contract 'very soon' to convert 767s.
The number of Boeing 787 Dreamliners on order by mainland airlines
- China Eastern changed its order to 737s