eCommerce driving air cargo market’s growth


Rapid expansion: A China Southern Airlines plane in Beijing. The airline set up a new route flying cargo to London, earlier this month — Reuters

Beijing: The rise of cross-border eCommerce is lifting the global air cargo market like never before, with China leading the way, boosted by the “Air Silk Road” or air routes that connect the country with the economies participating in the Belt and Road Initiative, industry experts say.

From flowers and fruits to consumer electronics containing lithium-ion batteries, all are par for the air-cargo course now, they said.

Besides generating cargo business for airlines, this trend has boosted trade in certain niche sectors like smart wearable and electronic products produced by Chinese enterprises.

They are now welcomed by overseas consumers, fuelled by a boom in cross-border eCommerce that has sent demand for air cargo transportation soaring.

With innovation enhancing consumer products and consumers pursuing lifestyles characterised by increasing use of “intelligent” products, competition in the global consumer electronics market has intensified, giving superior Chinese products, marked by intelligent and personalised designs, a clear edge, industry observers said.

This, in turn, is spurring the air-cargo market. Guangzhou-based state-owned carrier China Southern Airlines said that in the past few years, the international air cargo market has experienced significant changes. A large part of traditional bulk trade cargo transportation has been replaced by cross-border eCommerce cargo transportation.

“The air cargo transportation market has been undergoing constant changes, and cross-border eCommerce business has driven the fast growth of demand for air-cargo transportation,” said Peter Gao, Boeing’s vice-president for China commercial sales and marketing.

In 2023, China’s imports and exports of cross-border eCommerce products were worth 2.38 trillion yuan, up 15.6% year-on-year (y-o-y). Products exported for cross-border eCommerce alone reached 1.83 trillion yuan, up nearly 20% y-o-y, according to the General Administration of Customs.

As eCommerce involves products that were not part of traditional trade, new trade models and transportation methods have arisen, spawning new requirements for China’s international air-cargo services and boosting the nation’s capabilities.

For instance, products that contain lithium-ion batteries were hitherto classified as dangerous goods for air transportation. But now, cross-border eCommerce entails transportation of a large volume of such products.

In early June, China Southern operated its first cross-border chartered cargo flight that transported goods containing lithium-ion batteries from Guangzhou, Guangdong province, to London.

Those products included electric fans and Bluetooth earphones, marking a breakthrough in China’s air-cargo transport.

The robust growth of China’s cross-border eCommerce has necessitated new international air-cargo routes. In late March, Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport launched a dedicated cross-border international freight route connecting Shenzhen, Guangdong province, with Budapest in Hungary. It is the first such route launched this year.

In early April, Chengdu Tianfu International Airport launched its first international air freight route connecting Chengdu, Sichuan province, with Oslo in Norway. The route focuses on transporting cross-border eCommerce products in small packages.

Such links are expected to boost China’s trade with Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) economies, which has been growing steadily. In the first quarter of this year, trade with BRI economies exceeded 4.8 trillion yuan, up 5.5% y-o-y and 0.5 percentage point higher than the overall growth rate of foreign trade, data from the General Administration of Customs showed.

In the first quarter, China Southern transported nearly 2,800 tonnes of cross-border eCommerce products, electronic products, industrial accessories and agricultural products from Beijing Daxing International Airport to countries and regions involved in the BRI.

The figure was a record high since the new airport in the capital started operations in 2019. This has further promoted economic and trade exchanges between China and BRI economies, the carrier said.

Since March, demand for air cargo to transport fresh flowers to central and west Asia has expanded. China Southern designed an optimal transportation path and provided cold-chain services to transport flowers from Kunming, Yunnan province, to Beijing, and then to Central and West Asia.

The carrier has also transported products like cherries from Chile and Tajikistan, salmon from European countries and red wine from Georgia. It said it will continue to increase investments in the air-cargo routes connecting China and BRI economies. — China Daily/ANN

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