Could all-cargo flights be banned in Shanghai?

China Cargo Airlines makes its home at Shanghai Pudong. But will its freighters have to find a new home? Photo: Alex Kwanten
China Cargo Airlines makes its home at Shanghai Pudong. But will its freighters have to find a new home? Photo: Alex Kwanten

With annual passenger traffic at Shanghai’s two major airports (Pudong and Hongqiao) forecast to grow by 50% to 120 million over the next five years, China’s aviation authority is hinting that freighter flights may be squeezed out.

A report published in the English-language Shanghai Daily quotes Jiang Huaiyu, a director of the East China Civil Aviation Administration of China  (CAAC), as saying that “low-cost, cargo airlines and private jets might soon be required to base themselves in either Nantong in Jiangsu Province, or Jiaxing or Ningbo in neighboring Zhejiang Province.”

Mr. Jiang did not say when such a move would have to be made, nor did the report provide any details about what he meant by “cargo airlines,” but it seems likely he was referring to freighter aircraft, rather than airlines that carry cargo. If so, and if such a decision was made by the CAAC, the consequence for the air freight industry would be severe, as Shanghai Pudong International (PVG) is now the third-busiest cargo airport in the world, handling 3.2 million tonnes in 2014.

That 3.2 million tonnes is split between the main decks of freighters and the bellies of passenger aircraft, and moving the freighter portion of the volume elsewhere will create huge problems.

It is true that the Emirate of Dubai has pulled off the trick of moving all freighter operations from Dubai International (DXB) to Dubai World Central (DWC), but those two airports are only 40 km apart, have a purpose-built, in-bond road connection, and DWC was built as part of a massive logistics city where freight – both air and ocean – was the whole point.

Shanghai is not Dubai, and attempting to pull off the same trick there will lead to disaster. Let us hope that Mr. Jiang was merely speculating about a remote possibility, and not pre-announcing a CAAC decision.

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