China’s spectacular manufacturing growth has left air freight carriers scrambling to develop their activities in the country. But it could be a case of too much, too soon.
Two years ago, flying goods from Nanjing or Shanghai to Europe cost up to $4 a kilogramme; today it the price is about $2.50. “Very few carriers are still making money here,’’ says Xu Yong, vice-president of Nanjing airport.
As fleet expansion continues to outpace demand, carriers are adding to congestion problems at some Chinese airports. “We have just far too many planes now”Mr Xu warns.
荷兰航空公司Martinair副总裁弗兰克?德容Frank de Jong表示，中国空运货物出口量正以每年约10%的速度增长，而飞机货物运力的增幅约为25%。
Frank de Jong, vice-president at Martinair, the Dutch carrier, says the volume of Chinese exports by air is growing by about 10 per cent a year but aircraft cargo capacity is rising by about 25 per cent.
In Asia, about half of cargo transported is carried in the belly of regular passenger flights. Korean Airlines, for example, has the world’s largest cargo business among passenger airlines, with 28 per cent of its revenue coming from air freight.
In the US, the bulk of air cargo is handled by the specialist freight industry, led by UPS and FedEx. The Chinese government has recently granted greater access to the two companies.
瑞士信贷Credit Suisse分析师彼得?希尔顿Peter Hilton表示：“美国公司可以向中国体系内注入更多运力，并承接向来由亚洲航空公司包揽的货运业务。”
Peter Hilton, analyst at Credit Suisse, says: “The Americans are being allowed to inject more capacity into the Chinese system and moving goods that would have traditionally gone to Asian carriers.”
Beijing has stepped up its efforts to develop a domestic air freight industry, encouraging its airlines to team up with more experienced Western cargo operators. Until recently, the Chinese government had instead focused almost exclusively on overhauling and expanding the passenger airline industry.
A Hong Kong banker says: “Politically, there’s a lot more prestige in helping move people rather than goods, but the government has woken up to how crucial freight is for an export-led manufacturing sector.”
The growing proportion of air freight exported directly from the Chinese mainland is not only having an effect on the carriers, it is also worrying for cargo airport hubs such as Singapore and Hong Kong.
总部位于香港的国泰航空Cathay Pacific发现其货运业务有所放缓。国泰航空货运部门助理经理William Lo表示，来自中国内地的激烈竞争，意味着今年其收益可能增长1%至2%，而相比之下，去年的增幅为3%至6%。
Cathay Pacific, the Hong Kong-based carrier, has seen a slowdown in its cargo business. William Lo, assistant manager in Cathay’s cargo pision, says intense Chinese competition means yields are likely to rise 1-2 per cent this year, compared with 3-6 per cent last year.
Mr de Jong from Martinair says: “Nothing is produced any more in Hong Kong and what we’re seeing instead is all these new Chinese airports growing around it. Obviously they’re taking a piece of the cake.”
Shenzhen airport is developing rapidly as a cargo hub, reducing the incentive to transport goods across the border to neighbouring Hong Kong airport.
Jade Cargo, a joint venture between Shenzhen Airlines and German airline Lufthansa, started flying a year ago and has since been adding aircraft at the rate of one Boeing 747 every three months.
翡翠航空营销总监托德? 希尔伯特Todd Hilbrecht预计，该航空公司将于2008年实现盈利。他表示：“过去数月我们的业务略有放缓，但并不至于造成业务亏损。”
Todd Hilbrecht, Jade’s marketing director, expects the airline to become profitable in 2008. He says: “There’s been a slight slowdown in the past months, but not enough to make this a money-losing venture.’’
Although the cost of shipping goods from Nanjing and other mainland airports has fallen dramatically, high fuel prices continue to make it more attractive to ship large cargo by sea rather than air.
“The oil price can certainly offset the issue of delivery time,’’ says one industry executive. This month oil has tested its nominal all-time high of $78.77 a barrel.
Motonari Chiaki是美国航空公司Polar Air Cargo的业务拓展经理。该公司运营着每周从上海和北京出港的14次航班。
Motonari Chiaki is business development manager at Polar Air Cargo, a US carrier that operates 14 flights a week out of Shanghai and Beijing.
He says: ”I don’t think many people are making money out of China right now. We still do but it’s getting pretty tough.”