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Teaming up

New routes and partnerships are the order of the day as carriers try to get to grips with a rapidly changing picture in Asia. Ian Putzger finds out more

I n July, AirBridge Cargo Airlines added Phnom Penh to its rapidly expanding network. The Russian freighter airline serves the Cambodian capital once a week en route from Singapore to its home base in Moscow, with connectivity to points in Europe and beyond.


“Against the backdrop of China’s slowing export growth, the Cambodian market looks appealing, with double-digit growth in 2015 supported by ambitious airport development plans,” comments Robert van de Weg, Senior Vice-President, Marketing and Sales.


"We strongly believe that customers with export flows of fashion textiles and garments will benefit the most from this new service and we will continue to promote our services in Cambodia to create new business relationships and support existing customers. Furthermore, our current services in and out of Singapore are experiencing healthy demand, so capacity expansion there strengthens our position too,” he continues.


Cambodia's growth drew in several international freighters in 2016. Turkish Airlines mounted a weekly A330-200F run between Phnom Penh and Istanbul and Emirates entered the market with a leased MD-11F.


Not everybody is convinced that Cambodia is ripe for significant maindeck lift. "There is not enough demand for us to put in a freighter," comments Frank Naeve, Vice-President, Asia-Pacific of Lufthansa Cargo.


He is more bullish on Vietnam, whose economy expanded 6.7% in 2015, with foreign investment rising and exports providing much of the momentum. Lufthansa runs two freighters a week to Vietnam and Naeve is eager to step up the carrier's presence, citing growth in commodities that lend themselves well to transport by air. At this point the German carrier is hamstrung by traffic rights restrictions, but Naeve hopes the current round of bilateral negotiations will change that before long.


Cargolux added a third weekly frequency to its Ho Chi Minh service in April.


In part, Vietnam's growth has been fuelled by the migration of manufacturing from China, where rising labour costs have prompted companies to shift production elsewhere in the region. This has caused some fretting about a possible erosion of Chinese exports, but to some extent other commodities have made up for the exodus. Naeve describes a shift in the Chinese airfreight landscape.


 "Some goods that need a certain production cost basis to remain competitive are shifting to other locations, but now we see products made in China that are higher up the value chain. It is not black and white; everything moves away from China," he comments, adding that Shanghai and the Pearl River Delta remain important markets. Lufthansa boosted its freighter footprint in Guangzhou from two to three weekly frequencies in 2015 and added a fourth in 2016.


Export volumes from China have been respectable, notes Rahul Pathak, Head of China for Air France-Martinair Cargo KLM. Loads held up well during the traditionally slow summer months as well as during the 'Golden Week' holiday period, boosting expectations of strong demand for six to nine weeks in the peak season, he notes.


Lutz Grzegorz, Vice-President of handling firm PACTL in Shanghai, agrees that exports have been stronger than feared and are still substantial. Growth may be slower, but that was inevitable given the level of traffic, he comments.


"We are seeing good growth in the Asia-Europe lanes in the market, partly due to e-commerce development,  mainly from Shanghai, Hong Kong and Hanoi, which are still the main contributors to the growth in the Europe region," reports Li Wenjun, Head and Senior Vice-President, Air Freight at DHL Global Forwarding Asia Pacific. >>

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