Chinese airport opens major, high-tech cargo terminal

Chinese airport opens major, high-tech cargo terminal

Zhengzhou International Airport in China accepted several all-cargo flights last week, marking the start of trial operations for a new terminal that more than doubles the airport’s cargo capacity. 

The project is part of a major expansion of passenger and cargo facilities that will leave the airport with five runways and three cargo zones by 2035. The Chinese government is investing $712 million for 1.7 billion square feet of cargo infrastructure, including 754 million square feet for the North Cargo Terminal.

Zhengzhou is the capital of Henan province in China’s central plains northwest of Shanghai. The airport, operated by Henan Airport Group, has increasingly grown in importance for supporting air logistics as the area opens to more manufacturing and trade activity. It is a hub for freighter operator Cargolux.

Officials said facilities are inadequate to handle current demand, which has swiftly increased by 15% to 20% each of the past three years.

The new cargo station has room to handle 600,000 tons of cargo and mail per year, bringing the airport’s total capacity to 1.1 million square feet, plus apron parking for 16 additional freighters, high-bay racking, a 32,300-square-foot cold storage warehouse, a special warehouse for dangerous goods, a large customs inspection area for fresh fruit and seafood imports, and 101 shipping docks to facilitate movement of drayage trucks.

The North Cargo Terminal features the latest logistics and information technology, including automation for scanning, weighing and moving cargo within the terminal, robot yard tractors, unmanned forklifts and electronic waybills.

By the middle of next decade, Zhengzhou will be able to process 5 million tons of cargo per year. For comparison, Hong Kong is the only airport that currently moves more than 5 million tons. Shanghai, the third-largest cargo airport by tonnage after FedEx powered Memphis, Tennessee – handled 4.4 million tons in 2021, according to Airports Council International.

Zhengzhou is one of China’s top high-tech development zones, but “the logistics infrastructure in the region has not kept pace with business growth and that has led to supply chain disruptions. Poor cargo handling efficiency led Zhengzhou Xinzheng International Airport to suspend shipments at certain times during the COVID pandemic. This new terminal expansion addresses this efficiency challenge and gives shippers a stronger, more reliable cargo hub – especially for time-sensitive exports like technology products,” a spokesperson for Taiwan-based Dimerco Express said in a statement to FreightWaves.

The first flights — operated by Cathay Pacific, Hainan Airlines and Volga-Dnepr Airlines — to the North Cargo Terminal arrived last Tuesday. 

Volga-Dnepr utilized an Antonov An-124 super freighter for its maiden flight to the new cargo facility. The Russian carrier is limited to flying Soviet-built An-124 and Ilyushin-76 jets because Western sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have blocked its large fleet of U.S.-made Boeing freighters from flying.

The Cathay Pacific 747 freighter delivered a long piece of industrial equipment and left for Hong Kong with 107 tons of electronic products, clothing, molds, vaccines, caviar and other goods, according to a Zhengzhou airport news release.

During the first open week, more than 10 cargo flights will arrive to test the capabilities of the North Cargo Terminal. The facility is slated to be fully commissioned by Sept. 7.

Ethiopian Airlines will increase its weekly freighter service to Zhengzhou from three to five flights and open new freight routes once the cargo zone is fully operational, according to Henan Airport Group. 

Zhengzhou’s cargo business is dominated by freighters, with only 15% of cargo volume delivered by passenger aircraft, according to a Henan Airport Group slide presentation viewed by FreighWaves.

The airport said it expects major carriers, such as DHL Express, China Post, China Eastern Airlines and SF Express, to eventually establish international hubs there, and that it will be a home for distributors, e-commerce vendors and other cross-border traders. SF Express last year established a regional package sort center at Zhengzhou airport.

More than 400,000 tons of cargo and mail have passed through Zhengzhou airport year to date, with international cargo volumes up 8.8% to 330,000 tons.

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


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