Never heard of Ezhou City? With only about a million inhabitants, it is small by Chinese standards, and until now, has not been of much interest to the air freight industry — overshadowed by nearby Wuhan. That could soon change as Shenzhen-based SF Express works to make Ezhou into China’s foremost hub for express freight.
Cargo Facts reported SF’s interest in an air hub there last year, and it now appears that SF Express’ vision of a China-based, Memphis-like hub will become reality. Earlier this week an SF Express affiliate unveiled ambitious design plans for what could become not only SF Express Airlines’ primary express air hub, but, according to the developer, the world’s fourth busiest cargo airport, with planned capacity of more than 2.6 million tonnes.
It is no secret that SF Express yearns to become China’s homegrown FedEx, and that to do so, a centrally-located hub is of critical importance. From a geographical perspective, Ezhou City has always made logical sense as the site for a major air express hub given 80% of China’s GDP, and about a billion people can be reached within a two-hour flight (see map above). It was therefore only a matter of gaining approval and finding appropriate partners to carry the project into a more tangible phase.
Last year, SF Airport invested in a local real-estate developer, Hebei-based China VAST Industrial Urban Development, and formed a joint venture company. Then, in April 2016, the Ezhou Airport plan received approval from the CAAC, and it became clear that the project was more than just a concept.
In addition, SF will be more than just an anchor tenant at Ezhou. The express carrier’s airport subsidiary will play a crucial role in the design, and oversee the construction and management of the airport through its JV with VAST. According to recently surfaced plans, the JV will put up initial capital of US$14.5 million to launch the design and construction phases of the airport, which is a mere component of a 36-square kilometer ‘aero city’ project.
Separately, SF is also soliciting bids and partnerships to for development of the airport’s cargo area to ensure cargo facilities are adequately prepared to meet SF’s long-term needs. The solicitation calls for a sortation and distribution center to be built “in the core area between [Ezhou Airport’s] two runways” which could process 7 million tonnes annually, by 2045. Moreover, it calls for enhanced railway, roadway, and waterway infrastructure to promote regional intermodal connectivity.
SF’s airline subsidiary, SF Express Airlines, which recently took redelivery of the fourth of five freighter-converted 767-300BCFs it ordered from Boeing, currently operates a thirty-six-unit freighter fleet, including four 767-300BCFs, sixteen 757-200PCFs, three 737-400Fs, and thirteen 737-300Fs.
Those interested in learning more about the changing air freight landscape in Asia should join us at Cargo Facts Asia in Shanghai, 25 – 26 April, where a session will be devoted to the topic. To register, or for more information, go to CargoFactsAsia.com.