Hong Kong Air Cargo receives AOC

A Hong Kong Airlines A330-200F in flight. Just how will the livery change for Hong Kong Air Cargo?
A Hong Kong Airlines A330-200F in flight. Just how will the livery change for Hong Kong Air Cargo?

It’s not every day a Hong Kong-based startup receives an Air Operator’s Certificate, in fact, it has been about twelve years since the last new-issue permit. Today, that changed when Hong Kong Air Cargo, a spin-off from combination carrier, Hong Kong Airlines was granted an AOC.

More details are expected following a grand opening ceremony scheduled for next week, however, given recent personnel and fleet movements, the carrier’s strategy seems quite straightforward. Hong Kong Airlines, (whose parent company is the deep-pocketed HNA Group) already controls significant air freight capacity across its fleet of widebody passenger jets, and a freighter fleet consisting of five A330-200Fs.  The A330-200Fs appear to have already been transferred to the new subsidiary, along with some key personnel from the cargo planning, and management divisions of Hong Kong Airlines. It’s likely that that the new outfit will also continue to manage Hong Kong Airlines’ belly space.

What is perhaps more exciting, moving forward, are Hong Kong Air Cargo’s ambitious expansion plans to scale-up its freighter fleet into “double-digit” figures within five years, from its current five A330 freighters. In doing so, it says it will introduce 747Fs or 777Fs and open up more long-distance routes to the United States and Europe, according to a report in CAAC News. Both airframe types could be leased or transferred to Hong Kong Air Cargo from other HNA affiliates, or acquired from an outside source.

In fact, an order for 777Fs has been on the books for six years. In June 2011, Hong Kong Airlines placed an order with Boeing for six 777Fs. This order was later transferred to an HNA Group leasing affiliate, Hong Kong International Aviation, and later deferred. Given these 777Fs are still on firm order with Boeing, some of them could end up in Hong Kong Airlines’ fleet.  Likewise, fellow HNA-affiliate, Shanghai-based Yangtze River Express currently operates a fleet of three 747-400BDSFs, some of which could be transferred to the Hong Kong-based airline. There is also no shortage of 747Fs on the secondhand market.

Hong Kong Air Cargo may not be the only HNA-affiliate expanding its presence in the Pearl River Delta region. Last month, Hong Kong Airlines acquired a 51% stake in handler and airport services provider SATS HK, the Hong Kong affiliate of Singapore-based SATS. In parallel, Hong Kong Airlines’ investment arm, Holistic Capital Investment, acquired a 35% stake in Asia Air Freight Terminal (AAT), a stake that was owned by forwarder and logistics services provider, Kerry Logistics, SATS HK and Singapore-based Keppel Telecommunications & Transportation. This follows another major airport acquisition completed in January, when HNA acquired an 82.5% stake in Hahn Airport from the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate (see HNA Group buys Hahn Airport). Time will tell how interconnected these investments may be.

For now, those interested in learning more about the future trajectory of the air freight industry in Asia, are invited to join us next week in Shanghai, 25-26 April, for Cargo Facts Asia. Numerous panel discussions and presentations will explore the many nuances of air freight. For more information, or to register, visit www.cargofactsasia.com.

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