It has happened: After eight years and 30.842 billion yuan of planning and building, China and Asia’s first dedicated cargo hub airport went into operation on 17JUL22, with the take-off of a B767-300 at 11:36 that Sunday. Ezhou Huahu Airport in Ezhou, central China's Hubei Province, is the fourth of its kind in the world: a professional cargo airport that has been modeled on Fedex’s home airport: Memphis International Airport in the United States.
Test flights had been carried out in MAR22, and expectations are that it will be fully operational by NOV22. Built to cope with the continued, stable growth of Chinese courier shipments which hit
a record high of over 108 billion in 2021, the new airport features a 23,000 m² cargo terminal, alongside a “freight transit center” measuring almost 700,000 m², 124 parking stands, and two
parallel runways: 3,600 meters long and 45 meters wide, with a runway spacing of 1,900 meters. It is scaled to be able to handle 2.45 million tons in 2025, by which time it is expected to have
opened around 10 international cargo routes and 50 domestic routes by 2025. The aim is that shipments leaving Ezhou will be able to reach any Chinese destination overnight, and overseas
destinations within two days.
Connecting central China to the (cargo) world
Alongside passenger routes to nine domestic destinations, the airport has opened two cargo routes to Shenzhen and Shanghai and plans to include international routes to Osaka/Japan, and Frankfurt/Germany within this year, branching out to become “a world-class aviation freight transport hub” in future. “The airport will promote the opening up of the central Chinese region and the whole country,” Yin Junwu, Director of Ezhou Airport Economic Zone Management Committee, said, pointing to additional interest from the United States, Germany, France and Russia.
SF Express, China’s leading logistics provider, holds a 46% stake in airport operator, Hubei International Logistics Airport Co., Ltd., and has its own freight transport transit center, cargo sorting center, and aviation base at the new airport, which will become its central hub in future. “As a cargo hub, Ezhou Huazhu Airport will help SF Express to form a new comprehensive logistics network," Pan Le, Director of the airport's IT department, announced. "No matter where the destination is, all SF Airlines cargoes can be transferred and sorted in Ezhou before being flown to other cities in China.”
Smarter, greener, and safer
Regarding IT, Ezhou Huahu Airport has state-of-the-art digitalization: more than 70 patents and copyrights for new technologies, such as 5G, big data, cloud computing and artificial intelligence, were applied for, all with a view to making the new airport safer, greener and smarter. And more efficient: it will be able to handle 280,000 parcels per hour to start with, increasing to 1.16 million pieces per hour in the long-term. Machines are replacing people as much as possible, especially given the night-time cargo operations: “We've spent nearly a year testing unmanned vehicles in designated areas on the apron, aiming to build an unmanned apron in the future," Pan said.
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