Longhao launches first international cargo flights

A Longhao 737-300F being loaded at Xi’an airport (XIA) ahead of the carrier’s inaugural international flight to Hanoi (HAN).

Today, Guangzhou-based Longhao Airlines became the latest carrier in China to commence scheduled international freighter operations with the launch of three-times weekly 737-300F flights between Xi’an Xianyang Airport (XIA) in Central China and Hanoi Noi Bai Airport (HAN) in Vietnam. Longhao’s flight network is expanding as it prepares to put a fourth 737-300F into commercial service.

When Longhao launched just 1.5 years ago with three 737-300Fs, its entire fleet was deployed in charter service for Shenzhen-based express carrier, SF Express – but that is no longer the case. Although Longhao continues to operate flights on behalf of SF, the carrier is increasingly pursuing other opportunities in parallel. The new link to Vietnam is expected to carry not parcels, but high-value general cargo such as electronic components, semiconductors on outbound flights, and seafood and other perishables on the return.

While this mix of cargo wouldn’t be extraordinary for long-haul widebody freighter flights between two major cities, the connection between XIA and HAN illustrates a growing trend in which demand for luxury imports in even secondary cities is sufficient to warrant direct international freighter connections. Earlier this year, Wuhan-based Uni-Top Airlines commenced twice-weekly A300-600F flights between Kunming (KMG) and HAN. YTO Cargo Airlines and SF Airlines are also evaluating new destinations in Central Asia and Southeast Asia from Central Western China as they seek out “Belt and Road” opportunities.

Returning to Longhao, the carrier’s flight network will continue to grow as its freighter fleet expands. Earlier this year, Longhao purchased two ex-ASL Airlines Belgium 737-300Fs from GECAS (29109 and 29108) and a 737-400F from Vallair. Longhao confirmed to Cargo Facts that all three aircraft will be operational before December. As for 2019 fleet plans, Longhao is looking to add more narrowbody freighters but has not decided on whether it will stick with 737 Classics, or venture into NG freighters. Regarding future network plans, the carrier is keen to build out its network from Xi’an. In a company statement, Longhao said it would work to facilitate the circulation of high value-added air cargo between Xi’an, Northwestern China, and ASEAN countries.

Moving into next year, freighter activity at Xi’an is expected to increase rapidly. As a key focus hub in the Belt and Road initiative, the Shaanxi provincial government is heavily supportive of air cargo logistics development. Earlier this month, a new startup airline to be based at XIA, China Northwest International Airlines, received its AOC from the CAAC. China Northwest International Airlines is a JV between local logistics companies in Shaanxi province and YTO Cargo Airlines. YTO is expected to transfer freighters from its own fleet ahead of the startup’s launch.

Learn more about trends in freighter operations 10-12 October at Cargo Facts Symposium, where a roundtable panel discussion will be dedicated to the topic. For more information, or to register, visit www.cargofactssymposium.com.

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