China’s first cargo airline expanding fast with pax aircraft

China's first private sector airline has taken gracefully to the skies with a mix of cargo and passenger operations and now eyes international expansion with hopes of operating B747s to North America and Europe by 2009.

With a healthy start from its foray into the cargo sector, China’s first private sector airline and first carrier to operate dedicated freighters, Tianjin-based OKAY Airways, is now expanding rapidly as itbuilds its passenger capacity.

The carrier’s cargo fortunes received a boost barely a year after its maiden flight when in April 2006 FedEx awarded a fi ve year contract to OKAY to handle all its domestic sourced cargo. Three B737 freighters are dedicated to this task, according to the carrier’s general manager for planning and development, Lu Chao.

From an initial 2,292 tonnes of cargo and mail in 2005, the volumes jumped to 6,402 tonnes the following year. Up to June 2007 OKAY has carried close to 15,000 tonnes of cargo and mail. All a far cry from when they started with only two Antonov Y 8s, which are now used for survey work.

OKAY’s cargo aircraft are based at Hangzhou’s Xiaoshan International Airport, and fly six nights per week, mostly overnight, to six cities, including: Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenyang, Tianjin, Qingdao and Xiamen. Belly holds on their passenger services are also utilised for freight and with a growing passenger fleet this means extra cargo capacity as well. It seems that the whole nation is forever on the move, Chinese airlines are increasing their fleets continually and there seems to be no problem filling those seats. Passenger load factors on some routes are in the high nineties. And new carriers continue to come into the market place, competing against the giants of Air China, China Southern and China Eastern.