Bellyhold capacity rules supreme on most sectors within Asia, but DHL has seen a need for a dedicated freighter operation linking Hong Kong with Thailand and Vietnam. In November, the integrator launched a freighter run from Bangkok via Hanoi to Hong Hong. The flight, which fields a B737-400F with a payload of 21 tons, is operated five times a week by K-Mile on behalf of DHL.
According to the express company, the new service cuts transit time to and from Hanoi by one day.
“We worked on improving our transit times for this route because we know the demand is there and that our customers will benefit from increased service efficiency in this area,” said Jerry Hsu, chief executive officer of DHL Express Asia Pacific.
In a separate move, DHL stepped up the frequency of its freighter operating between Penang, Ho Chi Minh City and Hong Kong in the same month. It now runs an A300-600F six days a week on the sector.
Not only integrators see scope for more freighter activities on intra-Asian sectors. Cathay Pacific has launched a twice weekly freighter that flies from its home base in Hong Kong to Singapore and on to Penang, returning to base via Phnom Penh. The addition of the Cambodian capital into Cathay's freighter network reflects the country’s rising lustre as a production centre for garments.
With the influx of manufacturing relocating from China and strong investment in electronics production, Vietnam has attracted more all-cargo service, both by longhaul operators like Cargolux or Etihad and by regional carriers.
“Within two or three years, Vietnam can become a production hub in the region,” said Henry Dinh Huu Thanh, president of Vietnamese forwarder Bee Logistics, pointing to new production plants for the likes of Nokia and Samsung. Riots targeting Chinese-owned factories in the wake of China towing an oil rig into disputed waters earlier in the year prompted some doubts about the further migration of manufacturing to Vietnam, but logistics operators have not seen a pull-back.
“There is no talk about pulling out. Investors who are there already will stay and new ones are going in,” said Yasmin Aladad Khan, senior vice president for Southeast Asia and South Asia at DHL Express.
She added that DHL has seen solid growth in all markets in the region this year, with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia leading the charge.
Besides the establishment of export-driven production in countries like Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar, another driver of intra-regional growth has been the spread of e-commerce across national borders. Last September Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba launched a B2C marketplace in Singapore. According to Beijing-based iResearch, e-commerce transactions between China and other countries climbed 32% in 2012.
However, this trend is still shackled. A report on intra-Asian cross-border e-commerce produced last autumn by Eyefortransport warned that “Asian countries will need to address concerns with customs clearance, foreign exchange and payment platforms as well as taxes, logistics and the possibility of any corruption that may hinder the flow of trade.”
For the airlines the migration of manufacturing and the rise of e-commerce have led to better balance in flows. James Woodrow, director of cargo of Cathay Pacific, noted that the growth in consumption in Asian countries has generated an increase in seafood and other perishables flown around the region.
For the most part, the demand for intra-regional lift is covered by bellyhold capacity, but in some markets, there is a need to supplement this with maindeck capacity, he said.
By Ian Putzger
Air Freight Correspondent | Toronto