Yesterday, the world’s longest sea bridge, connecting Hong Kong with Macau and the city of Zhuhai in mainland China was declared open for passage. The bridge is expected to cut travel time between Zhuhai and Hong Kong down from 240 minutes to seventy-five minutes, dramatically expanding the potential catchment areas of Pearl River Delta airports.
While there are major airports on the west bank of the Pearl River Delta, Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) is the busiest cargo airport in the world by a long shot, with 4.9 million tonnes of freight handled during 2017. Carriers based at HKG include Cathay Pacific Cargo, Air Hong Kong, and Hong Kong Air Cargo, and just about all-cargo carriers serving the trans-Pacific trade lane have operations at HKG.
In recent years, airports on the west side of the Pearl River Delta, particularly Guangzhou’s Baiyun International Airport (CAN) have leveraged the region’s growing industrial activity to boost air cargo throughput. CAN-based carriers include China Southern, China Air Cargo, and Longhao Airlines, and the airport is the nineteenth busiest cargo airport in the world, with a 2017 cargo handle of 1.6 million tonnes. Just 135 km south of CAN however, is the once isolated Macau Airport (MFM), which last year handled just 37,499 tonnes of cargo.
With the new 55 km bridge now operational, the three areas are now interconnected, and we expect some air cargo flows to shift. Time savings from the direct overland connections will enable truck drivers to double the number of daily trips they can make between the west side of the Pearl River Delta, and Hong Kong. What remains to be seen, however, is which airports will benefit most from the enlarged catchment areas.
Cargo Facts believes that Macau’s MFM is well-positioned to receive a boost in freighter activity, particularly for charters and overflow from the region’s top logistics hub, HKG. Hong Kong for its part, is unlikely to be threatened in the near-term due to its well-developed infrastructure, and the extensive global connectivity from the airport, which cannot be easily replicated.
Ahead of the bridge opening, carriers and airport stakeholders have been preparing for the new dynamic. Earlier this month, Qatar Airways Cargo launched a twice-weekly trans-Pacific 777F from Macau (MFM) to Los Angeles (LAX) – the carrier’s first long-haul freighter service from MFM. Separately, Hong Kong Air Cargo Industry Services Limited (Hacis), a subsidiary of Hactl, has been constructing an inland cargo depot in the Zhuhai Free Trade Zone. The depot serves as an additional rung to its Superlink China Direct (SLCD) road feeder network that connects Hong Kong to the greater Pearl River Delta region.
The Pearl River’s west bank is already becoming a manufacturing hub, lawmaker Frankie Yick Chi-ming told the Post, but growing industry on the west bank has been met with a lack of connectivity on the logistics side. Currently, goods manufactured on the west bank face transport times of several hours as it is transported to Hong Kong via the congested Humen Bridge, which requires a long detour. Hacis is hopeful that the new bridge connection will create an opportunity to drive some heavy users sea freight to air freight.