In a move that underscores its commitment to expanding its global reach, Etihad Cargo has launched a new, direct connection from Abu Dhabi to Ezhou Huahu Airport in China. This step comes as part of Etihad Cargo’s broader plan to capitalise on the opportunities in the Chinese market.
“Connecting directly to Ezhou Huahu Airport builds on our successful collaboration with SF Airlines,” Leonard Rodrigues, Head of Revenue Management & Network Planning at Etihad Cargo, explained: “As SF Airlines’ hub, Ezhou is not only Asia’s first professional cargo airport but also offers connectivity to China’s five national-level city clusters via railway, waterway, expressway and air transportation infrastructure and serves as a gateway for air trade between China and the rest of the world.”
There are certainly parallels between the visions in Abu Dhabi and the Hubei Province to turn their regions into major logistics and express hubs. The UAE has emerged as the fastest-growing e-commerce hub in the Middle East, thanks to its geographical significance and investment in logistics.
According to ADQ, the UAE’s logistics market is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of more than 8.4 per cent to reach $31.4 billion by 2026.
The UAE’s e-commerce market is expected to be worth $9.2bn in 2026, up nearly 92 per cent from 2021, as online sales continue to soar in the country, according to a Dubai Chamber of Commerce study.
The emirate will build the UAE’s biggest fulfilment centre to cater to the nation’s fast-growing e-commerce industry.
The 252,000 sq m complex, which will be built at Khalifa Economic Zones Abu Dhabi (Kezad), is scheduled to open in 2024.
The mega fulfilment centre, which will comply with Estidama 2 Pearl sustainability standards, will also reinforce Abu Dhabi’s position as an emerging major player in e-commerce and logistics.
“As the national carrier of the UAE, Etihad Cargo supports the country’s vision and Abu Dhabi’s ambitious plans to become an express logistics hub,” Rodrigues said.
“Ezhou provides the perfect location to support our PharmaLife and dedicated e-commerce products. Etihad Cargo’s partnership with SF Airlines and the introduction of Ezhou to Etihad Cargo’s network provide greater connectivity, market access and cargo capacity for Etihad Cargo’s customers, further strengthening the relationship between the UAE and China and positioning both Abu Dhabi and Ezhou as global logistics and express hubs.”
China holds immense importance in Etihad Cargo’s operations, serving as a critical market for both passenger and cargo services. The new Abu Dhabi- Ezhou connection not only expands the reach of Etihad Cargo’s network but also aligns with the recovery efforts from the global pandemic.
Rodrigues highlighted that “the addition of Ezhou to Etihad Cargo’s Chinese network is providing our customers and partners with greater access to 25 offline domestic destinations, including Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Chengdu and Nanjing, with plans to add more destinations in the future.”
In terms of operational advantage in the competitive Asian airfreight market, Etihad Cargo’s partnerships, especially with SF Airlines, provide leverage that combines strengths, shares resources, and widens market access.
Rodrigues pointed out, “Etihad Cargo operates ten freighter scheduled flights to mainland China per week and additional ad-hoc charters to meet capacity demand.”
“In addition to our freighter network that serves Guangzhou, Shanghai and Ezhou, we also offer additional belly capacity on board ten weekly passenger services to Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai,” he continued. “Via our growing road feeder services network in China, Etihad Cargo also offers customers and partners access to 25 domestic destinations, providing seamless connectivity across the Chinese market.”
“This partnership will enable Etihad Cargo to add depth to our network by providing additional online feeds into our passenger network.”
Etihad Cargo and SF Airlines share a mission for ensuring innovation and technological optimisation in airfreight operations. Ezhou Huahu Airport’s state-of-the-art facilities and smart technology resonate with Etihad Cargo’s emphasis on using AI-powered solutions to enhance efficiency and standardise cargo handling.
Rodrigues emphasised, “ The state-of-the-art facilities and smart technology available in Ezhou Huahu Airport represent the future of air cargo, and all stakeholders are committed to making the movement of air cargo swifter and more efficient.”
“We are utilising AI to enhance the quality of our operations through the integration of the third dimension to generate ULD-level load plans so we can maximise the cargo carried on our flights and significantly reduce the risk of needing to offload a shipment due to overbooking or having to load cargo in a way not anticipated,” he highlighted. “Using computer vision, we can anticipate how cargo will be assembled and loaded onto the aircraft using cargo dimensions and volume data.”
Rebound and recovery
As the world rebounds from the pandemic, Etihad Cargo’s expansion into China contributes to powering that recovery by providing enhanced connectivity and cargo capacity. Moreover, this move resonates with Etihad Cargo’s broader goal of unparalleled global connectivity.
Rodrigues elaborated, “Our partnerships will enable Etihad Cargo to deliver the volumes that will help us achieve our targets while enhancing connectivity across our global passenger and freighter networks.”
While opportunities for expansion are ripe, challenges also loom. The balance between catering to recovering markets while maintaining sustainable yields remains a key challenge.
Rodrigues acknowledged, “The challenge is striking a balance that supports our partners and customers at yield rates that will continue to be sustainable.”
“This is indeed the right time to invest in partnerships and expand capabilities. The introduction of this new route and Etihad Cargo’s partnership with SF Airlines demonstrates our commitment to the Chinese market and addresses demands from our global customers.”