Lufthansa Cargo adds more flights to mainland China, ferrying urgent supplies to Europe

19-May-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

German freight carrier Lufthansa Cargo is expanding in China, surpassing 100 weekly flights for the first time, and adding new flights to Shenzhen.

Peter Gerber, CEO of Europe’s largest cargo airline, said there had been heavy demand for its services, though this might cool by the peak of summer.

“At the moment, cargo demand is very, very strong,” he told the Post. “It started to get strong in April, when Chinese industries got back to work, and after that we have seen a constant, heavy demand, a real peak.”

Global air freight capacity has been squeezed as two-thirds of the world’s aircraft have been grounded by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The collapse of air travel has practically put a stop to passenger flights, which typically carry half of all air cargo.

Since the pandemic, cargo flights have been critical in moving protective health equipment across the globe. From sending masks and other supplies to China in February, the German carrier is now taking urgent supplies from the mainland back to Europe.

“We have a high responsibility in maintaining supply chains in these unprecedented times for both global health and world trade,” Gerber said.

With the addition of Shenzhen, Lufthansa Cargo will fly to five destinations in China. It serves more than 300 destinations in 100 countries.

The cargo carrier is part of the Lufthansa Group and coordinates all the freight that goes into the passenger planes of its sibling brands, including Lufthansa, Swiss and Austrian.

By next week, Lufthansa Cargo will be running more freight flights to China than the 72 passenger flights the group flew weekly before the pandemic to Beijing, Shanghai, Shenyang, Nanjing and Qingdao.

Lufthansa Cargo has a fleet of seven Boeing 777 Freighters (777Fs), with two new 777Fs arriving this year as part of its strategy to operate a fleet with a single aircraft type.

It also has six McDonnell Douglas-11Fs that Gerber said would still be retired as planned at the end of 2020, despite the extra demand for cargo capacity.

Its additional flights to China will make use of “preighters” passenger aircraft flying cargo only. Gerber felt the trend of using empty passenger planes as “preighters” had peaked, pointing out that they cost the same to operate as freighters but carry only a fraction of the cargo.

Although he did not rule out future expansion, he said: “Demand will gradually come down in the next two or three months because a lot of equipment would have been shipped by then and some shipments will go on rail or ocean shipping.”

He said some uncertainty remained over continued demand for airfreighted cargo, given the battered state of the world economy. Airlines would have to consider longer-term demand before deciding to invest more in cargo aircraft. “It depends how it looks beyond the next year,” he said.

Gerber said no decision had been taken yet on whether to convert some of the group’s orders for Boeing’s newest widebody 777X passenger aircraft into cargo planes.

He added that future plane orders would be balanced against the wider needs and spending decisions at Lufthansa Group, which is currently negotiating a government pandemic bailout package in the region of euro 9 billion (US$9.7 billion).


Category: China

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