Is HNA becoming a new kind of air freight conglomerate?

Suparna Airlines is one of multiple all-cargo airlines controlled by the HNA Group.

A few weeks ago, China-based conglomerate, HNA Group gained a foothold in the global temperature-controlled logistics business when it acquired the cool chain logistics assets of Australia-based Automotive Holdings Group (AHG). Once finalized, the acquisition will add one of the final missing links to HNA’s air freight logistics portfolio, which already includes cargo and passenger airlines, cargo terminals, freight forwarding assets, ground handlers, and airports – essentially every component required for a functioning air cargo supply chain, except cargo IT. But wait, the group’s global logistics subsidiary HNA Modern Logistics, has already secured a partner to help advance and further refine its software and cargo IT systems.

Last month Shenzhen-based IT service provider iTran Systems and HNA Modern Logistics inked a long-term cooperation agreement to jointly develop products across HNA’s logistics businesses. iTran is already working on front-end sales and booking platform that will enable customers to book across HNA-affiliate airlines. Future projects include station and warehouse management systems which interface with automated guided vehicles (AGVs) currently being installed at select HNA-owned cargo terminals, and cargo accounting software.

With these air cargo logistics assets, plus the global network reach of combination carrier Hainan Airlines, the HNA Group is looking increasingly like a new kind of air freight conglomerate – and that is likely the plan as it endeavors to develop Xi’an as the future “Memphis of China”. Xi’an was first identified as the site for HNA Modern Logistic’s global air freight hub in May. Earlier this month, the Shaanxi provincial government promised to deepen its cooperation with HNA in support of developing Xi’an into an international aviation and logistics hub, according to a report in the China Daily.

Perhaps China has room for two or more express-centric cargo hubs like Memphis or Louisville, but what is more interesting to explore, is the question of which companies will ultimately succeed in developing these hubs. HNA is not alone in the race to develop a major air hub in central China. Of the other express companies that operate their own freighter fleets, YTO Express Airlines announced in March its intention to launch a jv cargo airline, Northwest China International Airlines, and use Xi’an as its Belt and Road springboard for international freighter flights. Separately, Shenzhen-based SF Express Airlines, the operator of China’s largest freighter fleet, is planning to construct its own airport in Ezhou.

Those interested in learning more about the future plans of HNA Modern Logistics, are invited to join us next year at Cargo Facts Asia in Shanghai 23-25 April at the Mandarin Oriental Pudong, where James Yu, Chairman of Tianjin Cargo Airlines will participate in a Fireside Chat. For more information, or to register, visit www.cargofactsasia.com.

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