Air China Cargo, a 50/50 joint venture of Air China and Cathay Pacific Airways, placed a firm order with US-based Precision Conversions for passenger-to-freighter conversion of four 757-200s. The first of the four aircraft was inducted for conversion at the TAECO facility in Xiamen on 31 July. The second is scheduled for induction in November, with the third and fourth to follow in early 2014.
Following redelivery, Air China Cargo plans to put the four freighter-converted 757-200PCFs into service for express package transportation in China. This marks a major shift in focus for the carrier, which until now has operated only 747 freighters, and only in the long-haul general freight market. However, with demand for ex-China international airfreight in the doldrums, and China’s domestic express market growing strongly, the move makes sense. One only has to look at the growth of SF Express and of China Postal Airlines to understand why others are clamoring to get into the game.
We have reported on the plans announced by Shanghai-based package delivery companies YTO Express and STO Express to acquire their own aircraft fleets, and it comes as no surprise to see Air China Cargo join in. The question, of course, is just how Air China Cargo will enter the domestic express business. Cargo Facts does not expect the carrier to launch its own express operation, rather we expect it to operate the 757-200PCFs on an ACMI basis for existing express companies, or for one of the express operations currently in the planning stage.
The aircraft to be converted have not been identified, but Cargo Facts believes they will come from Air China’s passenger fleet. The carrier currently has eight 757-200s, three of which were recently stored at Chengdu. Air China Cargo currently operates nine 747-400 freighters (a mix of production and converted units), but has placed a firm order with Boeing for eight 777Fs, which will replace the 747s as they are delivered.