Just as peak season demand was beginning to grow, the Civil Aviation Administration of China has imposed a ban on charter flights from three of the country’s major airports for the entire month of November.
While the 2015 peak season is not shaping up to be a record-setter, it is at least a real peak, and the CAAC’s charter restrictions at Shanghai, Tianjin, and Shenyang are accelerating the growth of backlogs that were already beginning to build. While Shanghai and Tianjin are major origin points for ex-China air freight, the ban also affects other airports, as shippers try to shift cargo away from the restricted cities.
But the real question is not how big the backlogs are, or where to shift cargo that would normally leave China from Shanghai, Tianjin and Shenyang; but rather: “Why impose the ban in the first place – especially now?”
The official answer, or as close to an official answer as is available, appears to be that the three airports in question suffer from poor punctuality, and cannot cope with additional flights. Unofficially, two other reasons have been floated.
- One rumor is that executives at the three airports are under investigation for abuse of their power in granting traffic rights. Cargo Facts has no knowledge of the truth of this rumor, but a massive crackdown on corruption has been the hallmark of the President Xi Jinping’s tenure.
- The other rumored explanation is that the CAAC wants to protect Chinese carriers. Again, Cargo Facts does not know if there is any truth in this rumor, and in any case, it is not clear whether such a ban would help Air China, China Eastern, and China Southern, or whether it hurts them just as much as it hurts foreign carriers.
Whatever the reason for the ban, it comes at the worst possible time for shippers who want to move goods from China to the rest of the world ahead of the traditional holiday shopping season.