Two themes that have featured heavily in the air logistics media recently are the lack of growth in air freight demand, and the shift of what volume remains from freighters to the bellies of the current generation of widebody passenger aircraft.
Moving from air cargo news to worldwide political and economic news, the current big story is the stalling of economic growth in China.
Combining all of the above, one might expect to see Chinese airlines’ cargo traffic stagnating or even declining, and their freighter fleets shrinking. But the reality is far different. Of the big Chinese carriers that report cargo traffic, all saw gains in 2015. China Eastern Airlines reported cargo traffic for the full year 2015 up just 1.3%, probably not much different from the worldwide industry average for the year, but Cathay Pacific’s cargo traffic rose 5.4%, China Southern Airlines reported a 12.0% gain, and Air China saw its cargo traffic jump 15.2%
And while some of this increased traffic no doubt moved in the lower holds of the carriers’ passenger fleets, all of them except China Eastern (through its China Cargo Airlines subsidiary) increased their freighter fleets. As shown in the chart at the bottom of this page, Cathay, Air China, and China Southern all added one 747-400 freighter, and in addition, Air China and China Southern each added three 777Fs.
The express airlines (and the airlines that fly for the express companies) were also active, with the addition of both narrowbody and medium widebody freighters. This, of course, comes as no real surprise, given the rush of Chinese consumers to embrace online shopping. Perhaps the surprise is that the number of narrowbody freighters operated by Chinese carriers rose by only five units in 2015, but when we turn from deliveries to orders the picture changes drastically. At this time last year, Chinese carriers had forty-four freighter aircraft on order. Today, that number has almost doubled, standing at seventy-seven, led by the insatiable demand of the express carriers SF Airlines, China Postal Airlines, and YTO Express Airlines.