Earlier this month at Air Cargo China in Shanghai, Qatar Airways’ Chief Officer Cargo, Guillaume Halleux confirmed to Cargo Facts that the leasing agreements for three A330-200Fs currently in its fleet will expire in early 2019, leaving many to question where these aircraft might end up. This week local media in China reported that Chengdu-based Sichuan Airlines is exploring its options to add three of the type next year. Sources familiar with the airline’s plans have since confirmed to Cargo Facts that although no deal has been finalized, Sichuan Airlines is considering the three A330-200Fs coming off-lease from QR Cargo.
Although Sichuan Airlines does not currently operate any freighters of its own, the carrier has been laying the foundation for the development of a freighter fleet for quite some time. Last year, the carrier took the first step by creating a cargo subsidiary, Sichuan Airlines Logistics Co Ltd (SALCO). Not much had happened with SALCO in the year since its formation, but recently Sichuan Airlines General Manager Chuan Chen told Xinhua he expected to “introduce state-owned capital” in the second half of this year, after which SALCO would expand the scope of its business from just managing the airline’s belly cargo to become a logistics giant that, in addition to acquiring freighters, would also become a major 3PL and operate an inter-city courier service. The plan also calls for the logistics company to increase its revenue from the current CNY400 million yuan to CNY3 billion over the next five years
As an all-Airbus operator with a passenger fleet made up of 121 narrowbodies and twelve widebodies, Airbus freighters would make sense for Sichuan Airlines if it is seeking fleet commonality. Two of the A330-200Fs in question are also owned by a lessor based in the region, Singapore-headquartered (but Chinese-owned) BOC aviation. But to commence freighter operations with a medium widebody freighter would be a bit exceptional for a combination carrier. Or would it…? Most airlines operating both passenger aircraft and freighters have opted for large widebody freighters to complement their passenger fleets – namely the 777F and 747F. These aircraft primarily target the long-haul general cargo market.
The domestic express market in China meanwhile, is currently dominated by narrowbody freighters including 737 Classics and 757-200Fs. Perhaps Sichuan Airlines will choose to add A320/21 family passenger-to-freighter conversions at a later date. Or perhaps not. Earlier this week we wrote on how domestic express carriers in China are marketing general cargo space on their freighter flights, supporting the notion that there is excess domestic lift available in China. If Sichuan Airlines adds A330-300Fs, the assets likely will not be deployed on domestic routes. Instead, the carrier may choose to develop a regional network, serving destinations in Asia and Europe from its main hub in Chengdu.