Beginning today, 23 March, an SW Italia 747-400F operated for China-based Shentong Express (STO) will touch down regularly at Brescia Montichiari Airport (VBS), just 100km east of Milan. The new thrice-weekly cargo service connects Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) to Brescia via Baku (GYD), reportedly carrying express parcels and Chinese exports bound for warehouses and fulfillment centers across Europe.
Although local media in Italy have touted the new service as Alibaba’s direct air express connection between China and Europe, such reports have not been verified. It is true that Alibaba is a major investor in logistics platform Cainiao, and that Cainiao feeds parcels sold on Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms directly into STO Express’ network. However, with more direct links to carriers like YTO Express Airlines, in which Alibaba holds a significant stake, it would seem out of character for Alibaba to lease entire freighters with another express company at this time.
Rather, STO is probably carrying freight for a mix of companies. This was also the general consensus when STO first partnered with SW Italia last November to launch weekly flights between Hong Kong and Prague; Alibaba never surfaced as a directly-involved partner. As for the rationale behind Hong Kong, it is quite possible that CAA restrictions which currently prevent multiple airports in mainland China from launching new flights made Hong Kong a suitable origin. HACTL and other logistics providers in Hong Kong meanwhile, have significantly expanded the catchment area of Hong Kong Airport with extensive road-feeder services extending across the Pearl River Delta, making it possible to easily transport e-commerce and express parcels to and from warehouses in Southern China, into Hong Kong (where Cainiao has a global fulfillment center).
From a fleet perspective, Cargo Facts has been expecting SW Italia to launch new flights for some time now. Last month, the carrier’s JV parent, Silk Way West transferred a 747-400F (29730) to SW Italia [FAT 003710] to takeover the flights between Prague and Hong Kong which were initially serviced with a Silk Way West 747-8F. After the transfer occurred, SW Italia CEO Ignazio Coraci had said that a third freighter would be added in the coming months to resume scheduled freighter flights out of Baku. Silk Way West has confirmed to Cargo Facts that it is currently preparing to take delivery of its fifth 747-8F (62709) next month, which could mean that SW Italia’s third freighter is not far behind.
Just how much capacity STO Express and China’s express carriers can utilize, and how promising the Asia-Europe trade lane is for air freight are topics that will be hotly debated at next month’s Cargo Facts Asia conference in Shanghai. Silk Way Group’s SVP, Wolfgang Meir will join Joanna Li, VP Asia & Pacific, AirBridgeCargo and Jochen Krug, SVP Airfreight North Asia, K+N on a panel discussion that will explore the impact of China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative on airfreight. The conference, presented in cooperation with the Shanghai Airport Authority, will take place 25-26 April, at the Grand Hyatt in Pudong. For more information, or to register, visit www.cargofactsasia.com