Asia's airline alliances, best known for revolutionising the passenger industry, are now looking at the cargo sector with the emergence of two new groupings dedicated to the field. Singapore Airlines Cargo (SIA), Lufthansa Cargo and SAS Cargo Group last week christened their joint general and express cargo service WOW, which comes into effect on April 1. While soft-launching the express component of the service in October under the name New Global Cargo, the group postponed its official launch because of post-September 11 uncertainties. The alliance - whose strategy is little different from the passenger-oriented Star Alliance, of which the three are also members - aims to pool resources of air cargo carriers through network sharing. It will allow customers of the three carriers, each of which will retain its own general cargo product name, to book services at the reservation centre of one carrier to all destinations within the combined network. WOW's significance lies in the sheer size of its members. Lufthansa runs the world's biggest air freighter operation, while SIA's cargo division is the third-largest. Within the technology-heavy export economies of northern Europe, SAS is the dominant player. That network reach will enable it to serve as a one-stop shop for freight forwarders, who will be able to simplify shipping plans across the globe with one itinerary and booking from whichever carrier they book with. Each airline would then benefit from increased sales. Timothy Ross, an Auckland-based regional aviation analyst with UBS Warburg, said: 'For an outsider, the benefits of an alliance are difficult to evaluate. But [WOW] members would get the same sort of interlining and code-share benefits [that they have been getting from their passenger alliances]. That means more distribution, more feeder traffic and lower costs without having to commit to putting in more aircraft.' Peter Gronlund, president of SAS Cargo, said the critical element of the WOW alliance was increasing the synergies between the member carriers. 'We're proud of advancing a stage nearer to our aim of a harmonised portfolio with the launch of our general cargo service. Preparations for harmonising even more of our products are already under way,' he said. While air cargo alliances first emerged early in the past decade between the United States and Europe, their significance in Asia is only now becoming apparent. So far, the most ambitious air cargo joint-venture is between the Skyteam alliance members of Air France, Delta Air Logistics and Korean Air. The trio recently formed the US Cargo Sales Joint Venture to co-ordinate cargo sales efforts in the US. Northwest Airlines and Cathay Pacific Airways have taken a different route to building cargo alliances in the region by partnering with DHL Worldwide Express to offer route-specific deals between Asia and the US. DHL takes about half the space on Northwest's five weekly freighters between Japan and the US, and has a deal with Cathay to share space on its transpacific airliners. A Cathay official played down the impact of WOW and the lack of an over-arching cargo strategy from oneworld, the second-largest global passenger airline alliance, of which Cathay was a founding member. She said the individual airlines serviced different geographic hinterlands and Hong Kong's strength was it still served as the major air cargo hub for China and the Pearl River Delta, in particular. 'It is unlikely that WOW will be able to capture a significant share of the cargo in and out of China, as that is our main hinterland,' the Cathay spokeswoman said, pointing to the firm's freight joint-venture with Lufthansa between Hong Kong and Frankfurt as evidence of the SAR's continuing importance as an air cargo hub. 'For oneworld cargo, the member carriers have always been working on a bilateral basis.'