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Atran’s launch of freighter service boosts Xi’an, Moscow development goals

Yesterday, Moscow-based Atran Airlines, under parent company Volga-Dnepr Group, launched the first flight of its new freighter service from Xi’an Xianyang (XIY) to Moscow Sheremetyevo (SVO) international airports. Flights will be operated by a 737-400F aircraft and carried once-weekly, starting this month, before increasing to twiceweekly next month. 

The 737-400F has capacity for 15 tonnes of cargo and will mainly transport international and express mail between Russia and China’s central and western regions, according to Xi’an City. Several local Chinese news outlets have also said that the launch of Atran’s weekly XIY-SVO service is the first all-cargo route operated by a foreign airline in China’s central Shaanxi province. 

The direct route from XIY to SVO is more efficient than the current indirect route linking XIY to SVO via Novosibirsk (OVB), according to China News Network. The new route shortens transport time for cargo between Russia and China’s central and western regions by three to five days. 

XIY – owned and operated by Chinese airport operator China West Airport Group – is located in Xi’an, the capitol city of China’s central Shaanxi Province. The airport’s strategic location in central China enables it to serve as a main node in China’s “Belt and Road” initiative by linking the country to its neighbors. In 2018, XIY reported that it handled more than 300,000 tonnes of cargo for the whole year and said that it sees cargo volumes of up to 1,300 tonnes per day and 26,000 tonnes per month, on average.  

While XIY is already an important airport in China’s domestic logistics chains, the airport’s operators and local authorities aim to develop the airport into a hub for international cargo and express mail. Xi’an Xianyang International Airport Customs, Xigang New District Airport City and China West Airport Group jointly supported the opening of the route, according to Xi’an City. With the addition of the new route to SVO, XIY now hosts 20 freighter routes in its network – seven of these are international, according to China News Network 

Last year, XIY earned its fifth freedom rights that allow foreign airlines to carry passenger and cargo traffic from one’s own country to a second country, and from that country to a third country (and so on). For infrastructure development in 2018, XIY saw the opening of YTO Airlines’ Air Transshipment Center, the expansion and reconstruction of SF Airlines’ northwest China hub, China West Airport Group, and Airport New City Insurance Investment Co, Ltd.’s joint launch of coldchain services, as well as the launch of perishable goods distribution by ZTO Express and Jingdong from the airport, according to China West Airport Group.  

For Moscow Sheremetyevo International Airport (SVO), the new route will contribute to the airport’s aims to become a leading transit hub between Europe and Asia. According to SVO, its “Moscow Cargo” terminal is the largest cargo terminal in Russia, Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Eastern Europe, handling around 340,000 tonnes of cargo in 2018. SVO is currently planning to enter its third runway into operation and will begin the construction of a new parking apron, as well as the second phase of its Moscow Cargo terminal expansion, as outlined in its “2030 Master Plan.” 

The addition of this new route will further strengthen both airport’s goals in becoming international hubs for cargo, though only time will determine whether they can overcome surrounding regional airports, such as Budapest (BUD) and Zhengzhou (CGO), which are also vying for this status. 

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