Amazing Express Race Part II: And the Winner is…

Shanghai – And the winner is… Last month after Cargo Facts Asia 2018, the Cargo Facts team ran an experiment to test the speed, convenience, and reliability of cross-border express shipments between China and the United States (see part I here). Three-weeks after dropping the parcels off at various ship centers in Shanghai, two of the shipments have arrived, and we are ready to reveal the winner.

But first, a refresher. On 27 April we assembled three identical packages weighing in at under 250 grams each and including typical tourist souvenirs – a keychain, chopsticks, and a magnet. Although undoubtedly, FedEx, UPS, or DHL Express would have all been capable of handling the shipment. We shipped the three parcels via China Post, Shentong Express (STO Express), and SF Express to illuminate how China’s express companies would rise to this challenge.

On 1 May, we asked our readers to predict which of the three parcels would arrive at our Seattle office first. Overwhelmingly, SF Express won the poll.

As it turns out, Cargo Facts readers were spot on. The parcel shipped via SF Express arrived at our Seattle office just hours after our post went live on 1 May, about two business days after tendering the shipment.

Details of the journey for our winner and runner-up continue on the next page.

The Journey: After a local SF bike courier tendered the parcel on 27 April, the shipment was transported to a local neighborhood hub, and then a regional Shanghai hub. From Shanghai, the goods moved south to the integrator’s main hub in Shenzhen. It is unclear if the package moved on SF Airlines metal, a third-party carrier, or if it was trucked between Shanghai and Shenzhen (When asked by Cargo Facts, SF Express was unable to comment on the specific routing of the shipment).

From Shenzhen, the package was shipped across the Pacific, to Los Angeles, SF Express’ western gateway in the United States. Although SF has recently acquired two 747-400ERFs, its airline subsidiary does not yet operate long-haul international flights. Instead, the shipment was likely loaded onto the belly of a passenger aircraft. Once again, public tracking details are not extensive enough to place the shipment on a particular flight.

Upon arrival in the in the United States, the package’s journey becomes much easier to track. After clearing US Customs, our souvenirs were trucked from Los Angeles to Ontario where they boarded a Seattle-bound flight operated by UPS Airlines. The last-mile leg of the journey to the Cargo Facts office was once again handled by UPS.

In Part I of the Amazing Express Race, we predicted that UPS might play a role in executing the delivery. This was of course because in October of last year, SF Express and UPS received regulatory approval for a joint-venture that would “leverage the assets of both companies to enhance, and provide a wider range of international delivery services.” Initially, the jv was said to focus on providing e-commerce merchants in China better access to the US market by focusing on deliveries moving from China to the United States. It appears, however, that UPS and SF leverage resources on other cross-border express shipments as well.

Regarding our shipment, SF Express’ marketing director told Cargo Facts, “As an intelligent logistics provider with the advantage of network scale, SF has extensive domestic and overseas logistics networks of service points, ground transportation, distribution hubs. In addition, SF adopts direct operation modes in China and some other countries, which means unified global operations and management are implemented to branches from the headquarters. That’s why shipments pickup can be completed with high efficiency. SF also unified the central system of pickup and delivery, transition and transportation network, which enables the flexible allocation of its own and its partners’ resources upon actual business development requirements.”

Over the next few years, Cargo Facts expects SF Airlines will begin operating its own trans-Pacific freighter flights using either the 747-400ERFs, or some other aircraft the rapidly-expanding carrier acquires between now-and-then. This month, SF Airlines put into service two Precision-converted 757-200PCFs (29423, 29425) that were redelivered this year following conversion at the Flightstar facility in Jacksonville (VQQ). SF Airlines has previously said that it expects to take redelivery of two additional freighter-converted 757Fs before year-end.

We note that the feedstock are ex-American Airlines, which is somewhat of an important feat for a Chinese Express carrier. The feedstock comprising most of SF Airlines’ previous 757 conversions was sourced from Chinese carriers such as China Southern Airlines. Given the limited number of 757s that remain in use by China-based operators (China Southern has a few left, but most are already accounted for post-retirement), last year SF Airlines had no choice but to source conversion feedstock from abroad.

The process of importing the ex-AA has been lengthy, but successful. Since June 2017, SF executives have made multiple trips to the US to inspect the aircraft and ensure that all of the necessary paperwork was in order. The latest redelivery was the third such aircraft to be placed into service. Cargo Facts believes this trend of sourcing 757 feedstock from abroad is likely to continue. Other Chinese express carriers have closely monitored these conversions, gauging whether 757 conversions continued even after domestic feedstock is exhausted. Following multiple successful redeliveries it appears 757 conversions will continue for some time.   

A not-so-close second:  

With last week’s delivery, China Post is the runner-up in our Amazing Express Race.

One week after the arrival of the first package, the package shipped via China Post arrived in Seattle. Tracking information shows the shipment was processed through a China Post facility in Shanghai on 27 April, with no further updates until the package arrived at the USPS International Service Center in Los Angeles on 3 May. The shipment cleared US customs and arrived at the USPS regional facility for Seattle on 5 May before it was delivered by our local USPS mail person to the Cargo Facts office on 7 May.

Lost in transit: Initially, we had high hopes for the package shipped via STO Express. It arrived at the company’s international export center on the same-day the package was shipped. For some reason, however, the package never cleared customs. Instead, it was re-routed back to STO’s corporate headquarters in Shanghai. Cargo Facts has been unable to reach STO for comment but has two possible explanations for the non-delivery: Either STO came across our first post, and cancelled the shipment, or, the package encountered trouble at customs. At the time of shipment, STO Express did not record passport information (unlike SF Express and China Post) and as a result we were unable to trace the package to an individual shipper.

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