Uni-top Airlines’ grand ambitions

Uni-top's three 747-200Fs will soon be joined by seven A300-600Fs.

Uni-top’s three 747-200Fs will soon be joined by seven A300-600Fs.

In September 2014, Wuhan-based Uni-top Airlines announced plans to acquire seven A300-600s and have them converted to freighter configuration – taking the little-known Chinese carrier’s fleet from three 747-200Fs to a total of ten widebody freighters – many in the industry expressed doubt. After all, Uni-top had acquired GrandStar Cargo International (the former joint venture of Sinotrans Air Transportation Development Co. and Korean Air) the year before, and appeared to have done nothing with it – even leaving Grandstar’s single 747-400F in storage in Beijing.

But EFW has now redelivered the first of those seven A300-600Fs, the second is scheduled to follow this month, and the remaining five by the end of this year, so Uni-top is clearly in the midst of a major change. Cargo Facts spoke with Huang Yu, the carrier’s Vice President, to flesh out the details and the logic behind Uni-top’s acquisition of the new freighters.

In recent years, most Chinese carriers have focused on one of two paths: long-haul operation on the Asia-Europe and trans-Pacific markets, or working to capture a share of the burgeoning e-commerce-driven domestic express market. Uni-top, however, seems set on paving an alternative path.

Uni-top currently operates its three 747-200Fs in scheduled and charter service to destinations in the Indian subcontinent (Chennai, Delhi, and Dhaka) and in China (Ningbo); and later on this month plans to launch service to three new Asian destinations (Almaty, Osaka, and Seoul), as well as Shanghai in China with the first A300-600F. Looking ahead, Huang says the new Airbus freighters will help the airline find its “balance between the international, regional and local market.”

Uni-top’s growth will be driven in part by demand from the carrier’s outside customers, but also through work on behalf of its affiliates. Uni-Top Airlines’ parent company, Shenzhen-based Uni-top Industry Co., Ltd, also owns two domestic express companies: APEX Express and SURE Express, as well as a third-party logistics service which includes warehousing and distribution facilities.

So while it seems UT will steer clear of the domestic e-commerce business (Huang points out that Uni-top is not part of the Cianiao network), the A300-600Fs will fit into a broader scheme to both feed domestic cargo into Uni-top’s regional operations, as well as having the range to reach much of Southeast Asia, India, and Central Asia as needed.

But the addition of the seven A300-600s is not the end of Uni-top’s planned expansion. Huang tells Cargo Facts that Uni-top will phase out its 747-200Fs (which range in age from 26 to 31 years) and acquire a total of six 747-400Fs. He did not provide details about the timing of the move to 747-400Fs, nor their source, but clearly, Uni-top is planning to become a major player in the growing intra-Asia air cargo market.

Join us for more air cargo insights and networking at Cargo Facts Asia, 19-20 April 2016 in Hong Kong. Click here for details.

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