Andrzej Jeziorski/SINGAPORE

China Southern Airlines plans to acquire and operate its own Boeing 747 freighter fleet and open a new cargo centre at Shenzhen International Airport as freight traffic continues to boom.

According to China Southern, the airline "plans to train its own freighter pilots and acquire, under long-term contract, long-haul cargo aircraft instead of its current short-term wet leasing aircraft". Airline president Yan Zhi Qing says this "will substantially reduce our operating costs".

The carrier began dedicated cargo services on 12 April, with a Shenzhen-Chicago service flown with a Boeing 747-200F wet-leased from Atlas Air. The route was upgraded to a 747-400F in May. China Southern plans to introduce three more 747-400 freighters over the next two years, boosting freight capacity to the USA, Japan and Europe.

"Since China Southern Airlines' inaugural cargo flight - there have been 42 747 freighter flights between Shenzhen and Chicago carrying 3,776t of cargo. The load factor of every outbound flight from Shenzhen to the USA was near 100%," says the airline.

The airline is planning to operate its new, 25,000m2 Shenzhen cargo centre from 2001. The Shenzhen municipal government is "committed" to establish the airport as a major cargo hub, and is offering China Southern preferential policies on tax, customs charges and warehousing.

Shenzhen and the Pearl River Delta area have the fastest economic growth rate in China, says China Southern, with 900t of cargo exported daily from Shenzhen and Hong Kong. One third of this is flown out of Hong Kong, with the rest passing through Shenzhen or Guangzhou.

The airline also highlights favourable charges in Shenzhen: handling charges are HK$0.35 (US$0.4c) per kg, compared with HK$2 per kg in Hong Kong, while operating costs are some HK$21,000 compared with HK$70,000 at Hong Kong.

Source: Flight International