Cargo takeoff in China


Rising value-added production and grand economic plans underpin burgeoning Chinese air freight. 

China is rapidly developing its service and advanced manufacturing sectors, as an increasingly mature economy moves up the value chain. The country is now the second largest air freight market after the United States, and increasingly depends on air cargo to get its high-tech goods to market.

In terms of outbound air cargo volume, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has reported strong year-on-year growth for the first months of 2017. This is providing opportunities for Finnair to leverage its well-established and diverse route network into China, which includes many of the country's most highly developed and rapidly developing economic centres. 

China's metamorpolis 

Once described as the biggest city you've never heard of, today Chongqing's profile is rising as quickly as its elevated skyline. Tourist attractions include cruises down the mighty Yangtze, hot springs, the city's myriad teahouses and its legendary spicy cuisine. 

Chongqing is the most important industrial and commercial urban center in southwestern China, with pillar industries including agriculture, automobile manufacturing and pharmaceuticals, as well as heavy industries such as iron and steel. The city boasts one of China's most strongly performing economies, with GDP increasing nearly 11 percent year-on-year in the first nine months of last year to RMB1.25 trillion (around $180 billion).  

Finnair recently resumed its schedule of four weekly flights to Chongqing after a short hiatus. 

"Cargo shipments out of Chongqing are booming," says Fiona Zhuang, Finnair Cargo's sales manager in the company's Shanghai office. "Products are mainly high-tech, such as laptops and smartphones, as well as auto parts."

As part of China's "One Belt, One Road" (OBOR) initiative, which aims to boost connectivity and commerce across Asia and beyond, Chongqing is now working to enhance its strategic position as a shipping and logistics centre. The city will reportedly invest up to RMB1.2 trillion ($175 billion) in infrastructure construction by 2020.   

"The OBOR policy should significantly boost development in central and western China," says Zhuang. "We expect this growth to have a knock-on effect on cargo shipments."

Xi'an on the march 

Another Chinese metropolis looking to profit from OBOR is Xi'an. An ancient capital of China, the city is one of China's most popular tourist destinations. The massed ranks of the Terracotta Army are the obvious attraction here, while gastronomes rave about the yangrou chuan (kebabs) and roujiamo (fried pork or beef in pita bread with green peppers and cumin) in the city's Muslim Quarter. 

Xi'an is one of the most industrialized urban centers in northwest China. While the rate of economic development here has lagged behind that of China's more accessible coastal regions, OBOR is providing a timely boost. The city has been named as the starting point for the initiative's "Belt" section, and is currently focusing its energy on developing two logistics parks. One of these, the so-called "Airport New City", is expected to handle much of Xi'an's burgeoning flow of air freight.

Finnair flies to Xi'an from Helsinki with increased flight frequency to three per week during the summer season. 

"For both inbound and outbound cargo, Xi'an is another key Chinese city for us," says Zhuang. "In terms of outbound, this includes high-tech products, titanium, plant extracts and clothing."

Pearl progress

Air freight into and out of China's coastal region cities is also taking off. Last year Guangzhou became Finnair's fifth destination in mainland China, with four flights per week during the summer season.  

"Outbound cargo from Guangzhou ranges from high-tech products and clothing to electrical components andphone cases," notes Zhuang. 

Situated in the Pearl River Delta, Guangzhou is the third most populous city in China (with the third largest GDP). With highly developed service, steel, textile and other manufacturing industries, it is the transportation and trade center of southern China, and is a special economic development zone. 

Guangzhou is also increasingly popular with tourists, who come here for the fantastic cuisine (this is the home of dimsum), as well as cutting edge architecture such as Zaha Hadid's Guangzhou Opera House and the soaring Canton TV Tower. 

Text and photo by Daniel Allen

Published May 30, 2017

Category: Local features, Economy