Tianjin Cargo Airlines prepares to fly, as HNA looks to the future

Suparna Airlines (the renamed Yangtze River Express) will keep its 747 freighters, but parent HNA will likely transfer its narrowbody freighters to startup Tianjin Cargo Airlines.

China-based all-cargo startup Tianjin Cargo Airlines received certification from the Civil Aviation Administration of China, and will likely start service in early 2018.

The carrier is a joint venture among three consortia (Tianjin Aviation Logistics Development Co., Ltd., Sky Holdings Co., Ltd., and Yang Hang Investment) that are controlled by heavy-hitting players in the industry, such as the HNA Group, China Post, Beijing-based Capital Airport Group, and Tianjin Airlines. Through its investments in Tianjin Airlines, and Tianjin Aviation Logistics Development Co., HNA will have a controlling stake in the new carrier.

Cargo Facts believes Tianjin Cargo Airlines, which will be led by Yu Wenyong, Chairman of HNA’s Turkey-based all-cargo subsidiary, myCargo Airlines, will initially focus on narrowbody freighter service in the domestic China express market. It will launch with a fleet of 737 freighters – with crews and aircraft expected to be transferred from HNA’s Shanghai-based cargo airline, Suparna Airlines (the renamed Yangtze River Airlines), which currently operates thirteen of the type.

For its part, Suparna will turn its focus to intercontinental operation. In addition to the 737-300Fs/-400Fs likely to go to Tianjin Cargo Airlines, Suparna currently operates one 747-400ERF and three 7747-400BDSFs, and ACMI leases a 747-400F from Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings.

But this is only the beginning. HNA controls not only Suparna and Tianjin Cargo Airlines, but also Hong Kong Air Cargo, the standalone all-cargo airline spun out from Hong Kong Airlines. In addition, HNA recently created a new subsidiary, HNA Modern Logistics, with the goal of turning Xi’an into a major international air cargo hub. However, this activity makes little sense without a significant expansion of the freighter fleets of the three airlines.

At present, Hong Kong Air Cargo’s fleet is made up of five A330-200Fs, while Suparna has one 747-400ERF, three 747-400BDSFs, three 737-400Fs, and ten 737-300Fs. Tianjin Cargo Airlines, at the moment, has no aircraft, but will likely take over the Suparna narrowbodies. As mentioned above, Suparna increased its capacity by ACMI-leasing a 747 freighter from Atlas, and Hong Kong Air Cargo did the same — on a much grander scale — signing an agreement to ACMI-lease three 747-400Fs from Atlas.

But Cargo Facts expects further expansion will soon follow. HNA’s leasing subsidiary, Hong Kong International Aviation, has a long-standing order with Boeing for six 777Fs. These were originally intended for Hong Kong Airlines, and that may still be their ultimate home. Or they may go to Suparna, for operation out of Xi’an or Shanghai. But we would be surprised if HNA stopped there.

To achieve its grand ambition to operate major air cargo hubs in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Xi’an, HNA will need to equip its airlines with far more capacity than just the six 777Fs it now has on order.

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