It’s early summer and for the Pacific Northwest that means it’s the height of Cherry season, so no points for guessing what this China Cargo Airlines 777F is carrying as it departs SeaTac for Shanghai Pudong.
As in previous summers, the export of Washington Cherries brings atypical visitors to Seattle to transport the fruits by the ton to customers far and wide. 2014’s charter carriers included China Cargo Airlines, Nippon Cargo Airlines, and Polar Air Cargo, all of which were running frequencies to Asia from Seattle over the last few weeks. Carriers with an ongoing presence in Seattle, such as Korean Air, have also seen added frequencies.
For China Cargo Airlines, the Shanghai connection is larger than just one or two charters. Beginning June 11, the carrier created a scheduled weekly flight (a tag-on from Los Angeles) for the duration of the growing season, and then used some of the product on China Eastern passenger flights – highlighting northwest cherry tastings on some Chinese domestic and international routes.
The carrier also highlighted the role of its e-commerce site, Eastern Origin Express, in getting the cherries to customers. This in turn was a perfect advertisement for what it can do with cold chain products like cherries, milk, meat, and vegetables: get them almost anywhere quickly using China Eastern’s bellies and China Cargo’s freighters as well as a substantial ground operation. Eastern Origin Express actually goes a bit further than just transport – collecting pre-sale orders for specific perishable goods and then sourcing them at their origin.
According to Li Yangming, chief operating officer at China Eastern, “China Eastern Airlines’ new business model establishes a direct linkage between products and end consumers.”
On the American side of the equation, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been making considerable efforts to bring more American-origin perishable products to China, and the Northwest American Cherry Charter is part of that, along with dairy products from California and Oregon, and crab and fish (primarily wild Salmon) from Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Keith Schneller, Director of the USDA’s Agricultural Trade Office in Shanghai, said of the charter: “China Eastern Airlines has unique advantage in terms of sourcing products directly. And we’re proud to partner with them to bring more American products to the Chinese market.”
On June 11, the first load of 56 tons of Cherries departed for Shanghai, and probably just as many were on the aircraft seen above (B-2082, msn: 37716) last week.
China Cargo Airlines currently operates six 777Fs, four 747-400Fs (two of them ERFs), and a pair of converted 757s. China Eastern Airlines, the parent company, will soon be among the many airlines offering the big belly capacity of the 777-300ER – their first delivery of this type is expected in early fall.
© Photographer: Alex Kwanten