SF Airlines maps out ongoing and future growth plans

Continuous improvement of the domestic network and rapid expansion internationally will be the key action items for the cargo airline.

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Regardless of what you know or what you may not know about SF Airlines, it still has the largest cargo air fleet in China. SF Airlines belongs to SF Holding, considered the largest integrated logistics service provider in China.

In a year when transport capacity congestion was seen throughout global supply chains, SF Airlines saw significant changes to its air network layout, which saw international volumes jump 400 percent versus the previous year. In total, the carrier operated 45,000 flights, safely moving 830,000 tonnes of cargo in 100,000 hours.

“In the initial stage of the pandemic, SF Airlines responded quickly, increased new capacity and added new flight routes in the subsequent months to provide rapid, stable and continuous air transportation guarantee for tackling the pandemic, resuming work and production and helping a recovering economy,” a company spokesperson told Payload Asia.

The airline expanded its service coverage from Asia and Europe to North America and added capacity by bringing three freighters to its fleet last year, breaking the 60 mark. In mid-June, SF Airline added another, a B767-300BCF all-cargo freighter as the 66th aircraft.

Network expansion
With its flight network continuously expanding, the carrier expects its domestic and international air stations to exceed 80, covering the US, Germany, Belgium, Croatia, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, India and Kazakhstan in Asia.

According to the airline, continuous improvement of the domestic air network and rapid expansion of the international market will be the key action items for the company. One of the major developments that the company is looking forward to this year is the opening of Huahu Airport, located in the inland city of Ezhou, in China’s central province Hubei.

The airport, developed together with Hubei province, will be the setting of an international logistics hub to serve as a throughway for packages destined for overseas, as well as SF Airlines’ operation centre in the future, the company noted. SF Holding will contribute 18 billion yuan (US$2.7 billion) for the cargo airport, which is expected to handle 3.3 million tonnes of cargo in 2030, putting it In fourth spot globally behind counterparts Hong Kong Airport (HKG) and Memphis (MEM).

Navigating the market
Amidst a pandemic, the airline developed new flights based on temporary demands, including domestic connections to Wuhan to carry much needed medical and anti-pandemic supplies. Other routes include flights between Wuhan and Tokyo, Changsha and Singapore, and Shanghai and Zagreb.

As the largest freighter operator in China, the express carrier has extended beyond general cargo to transport electronics, manufacturing equipment and temperature-sensitive products like fresh products and pharmaceuticals, providing customised air freight service and supply chain solutions for these industries.

Aiming to further strengthen its logistical capabilities in the global market, the airline’s parent company SF Holding bought a major stake in Hong Kong-listed logistics player Kerry Logistics Network. With the merger, the two will combine freight resources and a wide forwarding network to give full play to the Chinese parcel company’s advantages in international cross-border freight transport.

“SF Airlines is SF’s own freight resources, and is also the key strength to support SF to explore international business and strengthen international cross-border freight capacity,” a company spokesperson mentioned.

Digitally enabled for every scenario
Looking ahead, SF plans to evolve into an independent third-party industry solution data technology service company that covers multiple industries and scenarios. To make this happen, SF has allocated over RMB 4 billion in technology last year, investing around 16 percent more than the previous year.

“SF Airlines increased the investment on technology and innovation in business scenarios of flight, maintenance engineering, operation control, ground handling, aviation materials and administrative management,” the company mentioned, adding that it established over 40 information management systems using automation and artificial intelligence to boost its operations, including for aircraft maintenance, ground handling and flight operations control.

The airline also participated in the first phase of a logistics public information platform developed by China’s civil aviation  authority, which is said to promote information exchange for the main stakeholders in air cargo and enhance the operational capacity of the country’s air logistics sector.

Drones, anyone?
Over the years, SF has been looking beyond manned jets to carry parcels and cargoes and has already invested in developing drones or unmanned aerial vehicles through its UAV tech subsidiary Fonair Technology.

It is reported that Fonair has developed and introduced large UAV with the payload from 150 kilos to 3 tonnes and established an ecosystem that would allow the operation of large UAVs to connect the long-haul and secondary line of SF Airlines’ logistics network.

“In 2020, SF Logistics UAV has gained the trial permission of Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and has also started trial operations in Ningxia and Inner Mongolia. In the future, Fonair Technology will be committed to providing reliable solutions for logistics service in remote areas with smart aviation technology and accelerating the development of the
commercial market of large UAV,” the company mentioned.

Enhancing the service level
With the attention turned to cargo for much of the aviation industry, most people by now—particularly those within aviation—have learned about the value of air cargo to their businesses, particularly in the transport of vaccines.

SF Airlines said that, amidst capacity congestion as well as low level of informationization and supply chain integration, the industry is facing a key opportunity to reshape the market pattern and enhance the overall service level.

“The growing demand of vaccine transportation globally requires freight airlines to set up sound and complete vaccine transportation processes. After the passenger flights resume, the recovery of belly transport capacity may distribute the cargo of the freighter, and the repeated fluctuation of the epidemic will again test the freight airlines in response to the emergency,
which is also what we shall pay attention to,” the company noted.

“The global airline industry will play an important role in vaccine transportation in 2021. As a member of the airline industry, SF Airlines will actively improve the abilities on the vaccine transportation to get better prepared for the next work,” it added.

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