E-commerce drives China's air cargo market

Updated: Jun 24, 2024 By ZHU WENQIAN China Daily Print
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Two aircraft of European airline companies pick up anti-pandemic medical supplies at Shenzhen airport in May 2020. [PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY]

The rise of cross-border e-commerce is lifting the global air cargo market like never before, with China leading the way, boosted by Air Silk Road or air routes that connect the country with the economies participating in the Belt and Road Initiative, industry experts said.

From flowers and fruits to consumer electronics containing lithium-ion batteries, all are par for the air cargo course now, they said.

Besides generating cargo business for airlines, this trend has boosted trade in certain niche sectors like smart wearable and electronic products produced by Chinese enterprises. They are now welcomed by overseas consumers, fueled by a boom in cross-border e-commerce that has sent demand for air cargo transportation soaring.

With innovation enhancing consumer products and consumers pursuing lifestyles characterized by increasing use of "intelligent" products, competition in the global consumer electronics market has intensified, giving superior Chinese products, marked by intelligent and personalized designs, a clear edge, industry observers said.

This, in turn, is spurring the air cargo market. Guangzhou-based State-owned carrier China Southern Airlines said that in the past few years, the international air cargo market has experienced significant changes. A large part of traditional bulk trade cargo transportation has been replaced by cross-border e-commerce cargo transportation.

"The air cargo transportation market has been undergoing constant changes, and cross-border e-commerce business has driven the fast growth of demand for air cargo transportation," said Peter Gao, Boeing's vice-president for China commercial sales and marketing.

In 2023, China's imports and exports of cross-border e-commerce products were worth 2.38 trillion yuan ($328.3 billion), up 15.6 percent year-on-year. Products exported for cross-border e-commerce alone reached 1.83 trillion yuan, up nearly 20 percent year-on-year, according to the General Administration of Customs.

As e-commerce involves products that were not part of traditional trade, new trade models and transportation methods have arisen, spawning new requirements for China's international air cargo services and boosting the nation's capabilities.

For instance, products that contain lithium-ion batteries were hitherto classified as dangerous goods for air transportation. But now, cross-border e-commerce entails transportation of a large volume of such products.

In early June, China Southern operated its first cross-border chartered cargo flight that transported goods containing lithium-ion batteries from Guangzhou, Guangdong province, to London. Those products included electric fans and Bluetooth earphones, marking a breakthrough in China's air cargo transport.

The robust growth of China's cross-border e-commerce has necessitated new international air cargo routes. In late March, Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport launched a dedicated cross-border international freight route connecting Shenzhen, Guangdong province, with Budapest in Hungary. It is the first such route launched this year.

In early April, Chengdu Tianfu International Airport launched its first international air freight route connecting Chengdu, Sichuan province, with Oslo in Norway. The route focuses on transporting cross-border e-commerce products in small packages.

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