Etihad Airways and express carrier SF Airlines have conducted the first freighter flights to each other’s respective home bases in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and Wuhan, China, under a new arrangement that expands their global cargo networks.

On Saturday, Etihad’s logistics arm inaugurated a second all-cargo destination in China with the arrival of a Boeing 777 cargo jet at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport, kicking off twice weekly flights to the city. A Boeing 747-400 freighter operated by SF Airlines, China’s largest cargo airline by fleet size, departed Wuhan two days earlier and landed at Abu Dhabi International Airport, Etihad’s hub carrying express mail, e-commerce parcels and general cargo.

With the new Wuhan service, Etihad Cargo operates 10 weekly freighter flights to China and gains access to 25 more cities in China, including Shenzhen, Dongguan and Chengdu, via SF Airlines’ road feeder network. Etihad operates eight cargo flights to Shanghai. Shippers can also take advantage of capacity on five passenger flights to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou to move goods.

Wuhan and Abu Dhabi are located in strategically important trade zones. Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, is a sprawling commercial and manufacturing center on the Yangtze River with 11 million people. Abu Dhabi has positioned itself as a gateway between Asia, Europe and Africa for travel and trade, along with competitors in Dubai, Qatar and increasingly Saudi Arabia.   

“These flights will provide greater connectivity, market access and cargo capacity for Etihad Cargo’s customers, further strengthening the relationship between the UAE and China and positioning Abu Dhabi as a global logistics and express hub,” said Martin Drew, Etihad’s vice president of global sales and cargo, in a news release.

Etihad Cargo said it will increase flight frequencies to China in the coming months to meet demand from customers in the UAE and China. It operates five 777 freighters.

The Abu Dhabi government last year transferred ownership of Etihad Aviation Group to state-owned holding company ADQ, which also owns Abu Dhabi Airports. The government aspires to create an aviation hub for services such as maintenance and logistics.

SF Airlines, the in-house airline of courier SF Express, plans to carry out two round trips per week to Abu Dhabi and utilize Kerry Logistics to distribute shipments in the Middle East. SF Express acquired a majority stake in Hong Kong-based Kerry Logistics, which now functions as the express carrier’s international logistics arm.

SF Airlines has a fleet of 81 cargo jets, including three 747-400s, and is accelerating its international expansion. Besides Abu Dhabi, it has recently opened international routes from Ezhou and Qingdao, China, to  Liege, Belgium; Ezhou to Chennai and Delhi, India; and Changsha, China, to Tel Aviv, Israel.

SF Airlines opened a base at Ezhou Huahu Airport on April 1 with a dedicated apron for its freighters and an operations command center. The facility also provides ground support, training and equipment maintenance. It also has invested in a new airframe maintenance facility to be built at the airport by Singapore’s ST Engineering.

The carrier is operating the Changsha-Tel Aviv route twice per week with a Boeing 767 freighter that has about 55 tons of capacity.

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.


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