Exclusive - Is China Post joining forces with Alibaba?

There are growing indications both enterprises could partner for their mutual benefit. This was indicated by an insider at a Leipzig, Germany-held panel on air freight development last weekend, moderated by CargoForwarder Global.

Leipzig panelists (l > r): Ulf Weber, AeroLogic / Markus Otto, EAT / Gerton Hulsman, DUS Cargo / Kay-Uwe Hoerl, EFW / Bettina Ganghofer, DRS / Heiner Siegmund, Mod.  /  source: Roland Oster
Leipzig panelists (l > r): Ulf Weber, AeroLogic / Markus Otto, EAT / Gerton Hulsman, DUS Cargo / Kay-Uwe Hoerl, EFW / Bettina Ganghofer, DRS / Heiner Siegmund, Mod. / source: Roland Oster

UPS, DHL Express, FedEx, TNT – their global market share in air transport is growing at a disproportionate rate, so are their fleets and tailored supply chain management solutions for door-door deliveries.

Chinese Post on its way to become global logistics actor
Standing next in line is the Chinese Post that is pursuing plans to become a global player. This was revealed to CargoForwarder Global by insiders on the fringes of the Leipzig-held panel on air freight. According to them, China Post intends to become the main distributor of Alibaba traded products. It’s a long-term strategy to globally position Beijing’s postal service on the map. However, instead of operating an own intercontinental fleet they rather opt for closely cooperating with a number of dedicated cargo or combination airlines to get the Alibaba traded goods to the final customers. In Europe, “China’s Post is currently looking for a hub that best fits their needs to fast distribution of Alibaba shipments within the EU member states,” said a participant of the German Aviation Press Club (LPC) organized Leipzig panel. He added that they decided against collaborating with one of the major integrators, since they intend slipping into this role themselves.”   

Integrators are outpacing traditional cargo carriers
Two main trends are supporting the integrator’s further ascent: the rapid growth of the e-commerce biz and their ability to increasingly offer customers tailored one-stop-shop solutions, including individually requested delivery times.
To work out well, their acting is highly dependent on political, operational and regulatory framework conditions that support their particular business. This was emphasized at the Leipzig-held panel by Markus Otto, MD of European Air Transport Leipzig, a DHL division, who emphasized: “All of our flights are operated during night times. This means that our existence would be at stake, if our main European hub Leipzig/Halle wouldn’t guarantee us 24/7 operability.” Self-critical he went on to say: “As service providers it’s our job to convince the broad public that night flights are indispensable for us, guaranteeing jobs and economic prosperity for many.”

Same day delivery
Having said this manager Otto emphasized the latest and fast accelerating trend in global trade with online shoppers expecting their package delivery companies to hand over their goods bought online to them the same day they have ordered them.
This however, turns out to be a problem for both integrators and traditional cargo carriers as recently seen when Chinese wholesale trader Alibaba started a 24h special price campaign, generating revenues of 8 billion U.S. dollars. “For us it’s impossible to adjust our capacity on special peaks, lasting no longer than a day or two,” argued Managing Director Ulf Weber of carrier AeroLogic GmbH, a 50/50% subsidiary of DHL Express and Lufthansa Cargo. Because what’s happening after the sudden hype and things getting back to normal again: - the carrier’s freighters are flying half empty.
AeroLogic’s Helmsman Weber further pointed out that volumes on his carrier’s roundtrips between the Pacific Rim and Europe are nearly balanced meanwhile. When AeroLogic commenced flying five years ago it was a one way transport from East to West, he said. This was confirmed by Bettina Ganghofer, former MD of handling agent PACTL at Shanghai Pudong Airport and meanwhile Managing Director of Dresden Airport.

Throat cut price pressure
Asked about how to close the growing gap between the rising demand for constantly bettering the product quality and the often poor wages agents are paying to their ground handling personnel or integrators to their couriers, MD Gerton Hulsman of Dusseldorf Airport Cargo conceded that this is a severe problem. “Airlines exercise a murderous price pressure on us which limits our financial abilities.” This is kind of a vicious circle, he said. “We train our handling staff to become security experts or how to correctly deal with dangerous goods according to international requirements. But the margins in ground handling are so low that we are financially severely limited.”

TK taking over LH?
“We failed to define a clearly-distinguishable career profile for this particular professional group,” regretted Bettina Ganghofer. Low salaries, unfavorable working hours and conditions, Bettina added, are main aspects why the cargo industry has a rather poor reputation compared to automotive, trade or the pharmaceutical industry. This has to be changed if air freight wants to better its negative image and get public support for future projects or to prevent further operational restrictions at European airports, Frau Ganghofer stated. If not, “our traditional legacy carriers will lose out to the state subsidized Gulf carriers or Turkish Airlines,” Gerton Hulsman predicted. “TK CEO Temel Kotil has recently announced that he intends buying Lufthansa within the next five years,” Gerton cited the manager. “Didn’t sound like a joke to me,” he added.  

A330 P2F conversion program starting in 2015
Head of Operations, Conversions and MRO, Kay-Uwe Hoerl of Dresden-based Elbe-Flugzeugwerke (EFW) confirmed his firm’s intention to start the conversion of passenger Airbus A330-200s and -300s to freighter aircraft in December next year. Once tested and licensed, up to 20 A330s can be redesigned yearly from P2F, he announced. The market demand for the aircraft is there, he stated, shown especially from express companies. Confirmed Markus Otto of EAT: “Particularly the A-300 variant could be of interest for us.”

Unmanned freighters are thinkable
EFW manager Hoerl went on to say that his enterprise is not only looking at Airbus jets but also at the Boeing 757 for being converted to freighter aircraft, well knowing that particularly DHL will soon start to phase out their aging fleet of 757Fs step by step and replacing them by younger aircraft of this production type or similar models.

While looking beyond the horizon AeroLogic’s Ulf Weber imagined that in about 30 years unmanned freighter aircraft might cruise the skies. “Today, DHL is testing drones to best deliver small parcels over shorter distances to clients. This program might well be expanded step by step and result in unmanned cargo planes one day.”

Heiner Siegmund

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