Confirming long-suspected rumors about the next step in its logistics journey, Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com launched 737 freighter service today under its JD Logistics brand, in partnership with HNA Group subsidiary carrier Tianjin Air Cargo. The move represents a major departure for the company, which until now has relied on moving air freight in the belly holds of passenger aircraft. At the 6 November launch, the new freighter service will operate round-trip, six-times-weekly flights between Tianjin (TSN) and Guangzhou (CAN).
Collaboration between JD.com and HNA Group has been expected since March of this year, when the companies entered into a “Strategic Cooperation Framework Agreement.” July reports that JD.com had entered into discussions with HNA over potential participation in one of the group’s air cargo carriers also fueled rumors that, like Amazon, JD might intend to launch an own-controlled air freight network. Tianjin Air Cargo currently operates three 737Fs – one leased 737-300F and two ex-Suparna Airlines 737-400Fs – but has said that it hopes to rapidly scale up to a fleet of between fifty and one hundred aircraft within only a few years. However, it is not entirely clear from where the carrier intends to source such a large number of aircraft within that narrow timeframe.
In addition to supporting its e-commerce business, JD.com’s announcement indicates that the 737F will support its other expanding logistics offerings, including business-to-business deliveries and individual parcel deliveries throughout China. As our sister publication, Air Cargo World, reported last month, JD said it is considering launching a FedEx-style parcel delivery service for businesses in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou to send parcels to locations in China for same- or next-day delivery.
Other e-commerce giants, including Amazon and Alibaba, have likewise expressed interest in expanded logistics offerings, but Amazon has been the only e-commerce company with an own-operated freighter fleet since the company forged deals for twenty 767 freighters each with Air Transport Services Group and Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings in 2016. JD.com’s new dedicated freighter service is a promising step toward growing its logistics network to support such a plan.
While JD.com has yet to announce a second route for its air freight partnership with Tianjin Air Cargo, the company said it “will be looking closely” at how to expand freighter operations, and plans to launch additional routes between northern and southern China.