On 9 December, a Kalitta Airlines 747-400F (25868) arrived at Wuhan’s Tianhe Airport (WUH), the first flight of a new thrice-weekly service between Chicago (ORD) and the airport in central China. The flights are being organized by China-based forwarder, Apex Logistics. Onboard the first flight were some of the hottest-selling cross-border commodities on e-commerce platforms: blueberries, cherries and salmon from the Americas. The new flights underscore not only a rising competitor to the country’s dominant air import gateway, PVG, but also reinforce a popular notion that e-commerce may extend this year’ peak season well into January.
Almost unanimously across the globe, air freight rates are elevated as capacity remains tight. Panalpina’s global head of Air Freight, Lucas Kuehner provided a peak season update last Friday saying, “As for the peak season, there is no sign of a slow-down as of yet. Looking at individual trade lanes, Kuehner added:
- Between Asia and Europe, and between Asia and the Americas, demand for air freight is still very high in both directions.
- Outbound Europe to Asia and the Americas in particular, demand is enormously high and there is hardly any capacity left.
- Flights to Latin America from Asia, where capacity is almost not available anymore. “On a first-come, first-served basis, we still offer express solutions, of course.
- The only route where things have slowed down a little is on the Transpacific, from Asia to the US, but it is too early to tell. In any case, we remain alert and agile, just as we have all year through,” says Kuehner.”
But what do Apex’s Wuhan flight have to do with peak season? This year’s global shopping holidays cleared out inventories, a major boon to logistics providers that facilitate replenishment. As capacity becomes tight, rates have increased accordingly. While some customers are ultimately willing to pay higher rates, others are able to wait. This e-commerce effect, Kuehner said in a social media post, could create “a kind of vacuum for ‘heavy’ freight” which could push peak season “right into January,” only slowing after Chinese New Year.
Apex meanwhile, said that by organizing its own flights into Wuhan, total landed costs are about 30% lower compared to the rates it would have paid on flights into existing import gateways like Zhengzhou (CGO) or Shanghai Pudong (PVG). The forwarder has not specified the terms of the agreement with Kalitta, or said if the service will continue if air freight rates fall.
Separately, Wuhan-based Uni-Top Airlines announced it plans to launch four-times-weekly service to Luxembourg (LUX) from Tianhe Airport, in what will become the first scheduled freighter flight to Europe from Wuhan. Uni-Top’s active fleet includes five A300-600Fs, and one 747-200F. The carrier also owns a 747-400F (26401) which it acquired from now defunct carrier, Grandstar Cargo Airlines. The 747-400F has been parked at Beijing Capital Airport for years, but Cargo Facts believes Uni-Top may be preparing to bring this aircraft back into service for the flights to Luxembourg.