A giant step for SF Express

SF Airlines is following the path pioneered by FedEx and UPS.

SF Airlines is following the path pioneered by FedEx and UPS.

Draw a line on a map of China, from Beijing in the north all the way south to the Pearl River Delta, home of Hong Kong, Guanzhou and Shenzen. Now draw another line, this time from Shanghai on the east coast to the new commercial/industrial region that includes Chongqing and Chengdu in the west.

Now, look at the point where the two lines cross. If you wanted the perfect location for an air express hub that could serve China the way Memphis and Louisville allow FedEx and UPS to serve the US, this is where you would look. And if there just happened to be another up-and-coming industrial/commercial center nearby, that would be icing on your cake.

So no surprise that SF Express, which has modeled its growth after the big US integrators, is reported to be planning to build a massive new hub just outside Wuhan, where the two lines on the map cross.

And, if reports in the Chinese media are correct, SF is not only planning to build an express hub, but an entire airport.

No announcement has been made, but the Shenzhen-based express giant is thought to be looking at a greenfield site near the town of Yanji, about 75 km east of Wuhan in Hubei province.

But wait. Build an airport? SF Airlines, the company’s air arm, only has a handful of airplanes, right? Why build an entire airport for just a few freighters?

  • One reason is that the fleet is no longer that small. SF has been adding freighters as fast as it can, and now operates twelve 757-200Fs, three 737-400Fs, and seven 737-300Fs – a total of twenty-two. It also has four more 757-200s in, or awaiting, conversion, and an outstanding order for four more. Plus five 767-300 P-to-F conversions on order with Boeing. Plus a reported six or seven 737-300 P-to-F conversions. All of which would bring the SF fleet to over forty units.
  • A second reason is that in addition to its owned fleet, SF charters or leases main-deck lift from a variety of Chinese carriers.
  • But the real reason is that the owned and leased aircraft above are just the tip of a very large iceberg. SF told Cargo Facts three years ago that it expected its fleet to grow to over 150 units (owned and leased/chartered) by 2021, and, given the company’s growth over the last three years, we expect the fleet to grow well beyond 150 units in the years to come.

So SF Express building a centrally located airport is not really as wild an idea as it sounds.

And regarding that fleet growth… If a report from the World Civil Aviation Resource Net is true, SF has already placed an order with Boeing for twenty-five 767-300Fs. We have not been able to confirm the report (which quoted “a source familiar with the matter”), but would not be surprised if it turned out to be correct. 

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