Nicholas Ionides/SINGAPORE

China Southern Airlines is undertaking a major expansion of its fledgling dedicated cargo operation, and has placed orders for two Boeing 747-400 Freighters.

The aircraft, the first 747-400Fs to be ordered by a Chinese carrier, are due for delivery in June and September 2002, according to airline sources. Government approval has already been obtained although an engine selection has not yet been made. China Southern, the country's largest carrier, only launched dedicated freighter operations last year and uses a single 747-400F wet-leased from Atlas Air. Flights operate to Chicago from Shanghai and Shenzhen.

China's government has been pushing airlines to boost dedicated cargo services in recent years but the industry remains in its infancy.

Only Air China, China Southern and China Cargo Airlines, a subsidiary of China Eastern Airlines, operated freighters in their own right or through wet-leases with Atlas Air. Two smaller carriers, Hainan Airlines and Shandong Airlines, have said they are considering launching cargo operations.

Airline sources say it has not been decided whether the Atlas wet-lease deal with China Southern will continue after it expires next year. They say new services will be operated after the new aircraft are delivered, with New York at the top of the list. Services are also possible to points in Asia and Europe.

China Southern's choice of Shenzhen as its home cargo hub puts it into competition with Cathay Pacific Airways, Air Hong Kong and Dragonair. All three operate 747 freighters from just across the border in Hong Kong.

Guangzhou-based China Southern is claiming outbound loads of 90t on each of its thrice-weekly flights to Chicago. It is building a 25,000m² (270,000ft²) cargo terminal at Shenzhen International Airport to handle its expanding operations.

Source: Flight International