Last month, YTO Express Airlines took delivery of its fourth freighter-converted 737-300. Yesterday evening, on 5 July, the plane took off on its maiden flight to Beijing Capital (PEK) from Hangzhou’s Xiaoshan (HGH) airport sporting YTO livery.
YTO is leasing the ex-Donghai Airlines freighter (24916) from GECAS, and plans to begin using it immediately to plug new capacity into Alibaba’s Cainiao logistics network. From its base in Hangzhou, the airline’s small, but rapidly growing fleet connects the e-commerce mega-center with Chengdu, Shenzhen, Xi’an and now Beijing.
Continued fleet expansion is on YTO’s radar as it races to keep-up with fellow-express carrier SF Express Airlines— YTO says its fifth aircraft has already arrived at the STAECO facility in Jinan, and is undergoing freighter-conversion by PEMCO. No announcement has been made regarding the specific aircraft, but it appears to be an ex-US Airways 737-300 (23739). Conversion and painting is expected to to be wrapped up, and the plane redelivered before the start of the Mid-Autumn Festival which begins on Thursday, 15 September.
Last February the airline also signed an order with Boeing for up to twenty 737-800BCFs—10 firm orders and 10 commitments. According to a company circular, YTO may have already firmed up its 10 commitments.
Delivery of YTO’s first 737-800BCF is not expected until early 2018. Until then, the carrier will likely look to other sources for additional 737 classics, YTO told Cargo Facts. As for where the feedstock may come from, classics are becoming increasingly hard to find. Tthe majority of the remaining US-Airways 737-300 classics are slated to be scrapped. China Southern has a few units in storage from retired passenger service, but many of these units are already spoken for. Southwest Airlines offers perhaps the greatest source of feedstock with 107 post-1997 build (-300) classics still in passenger service, though we can hardly recall an ex-Southwest Airlines plane being converted. Given the heavy usage of these aircraft, most of these aircraft are likely headed straight for the scrap-yard. Bridging the gap between -300Fs and 800BCFs with -400Fs would provide additional feedstock options, notably from Alaska Airlines and JAL Express which both have substantial fleets of 737-400s in passenger service slated for retirement. Many of these units however, have also likely found their post-retirement homes.
As YTO looks to add capacity not only domestically within China, but internationally as well, to facilitate the rapid delivery of cross-border e-commerce purchases, the carrier will likely be involved in some cross-border aircraft transactions in the coming months.