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Development efforts pay off as Xi’an welcomes first fifth-freedom flights by Korean Air 

On May 12, Xi’an International Airport (XIY) welcomed the first 777F operated by Korean Air as part of a scheduled flight via Seoul (ICN)-Xi’an (XIY)-Hanoi (HAN) utilizing a 777 freighter. The route launch supports various facets of Chinese regional and national aims to develop aviation hubs in line with international network expansion to meet evolving demand in China.  

The new Korean Air Cargo ICN-XIY-HAN route is scheduled to fly once weekly on Sundays. The route leverages the airport’s recently approved fifth-freedom flight rights offered, which were granted by the Chinese State Council last November. The airport’s fifth-freedom rights allow foreign airlines to carry passenger and cargo traffic from their own country to a second country, and from that country to a third country (and so on), and are seen as an intermediate step towards scheduled roundtrip freighter flights.

The first flight carried 68 tonnes of Samsung electronics equipment, 40 tonnes of which were unloaded at XIY over the course of two hours, before continuing on to HAN, according to Sina Finance. Leveraging these rights out of XIY can increase route planning options between East Asia and Southeast Asia for carriers aiming to meet evolving Chinese demand. 

XIY, located in China’s Shaanxi province, serves as an emerging hub of China’s “Belt and Road” initiative and has been supported in its development efforts by both regional and national government plans. Regionally, the Xi’an Municipal Government outlined plans to develop XIY into a cargo hub in its May 2018 “13th Five-Year Plan. Development was further supported by the “National Logistics Hub Layout and Construction Plan” issued by the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission and Ministry of Transport in December 2018, which identified Xi’an as a key project to develop into a national logistics hub. Local governments also are supporting the establishment of international routes with special subsidy policies, according to TTG China 

At present, XIY hosts 67 international routes. The Chinese Ministry of Finance said that at least 10 more international routes – including Lisbon, Dubai, Budapest, Colombo and Cairo – will launch later this year. Further details regarding these flights have yet to be announced. 

Since last year, XIY has welcomed Atran Airlines’ new freighter service linking the airport to Moscow Sheremetyevo (SVO) and Longhao Airlines, which also launched three-times weekly 737-300F flights between XIY and HAN, as reported by our sister site Cargo Facts 

The increased number of flights have likely already contributed to growth at the airport. From January to April 2019, XIY handled around 101,000 tonnes of cargo, marking a 16.7% year-over-year increase in volumes, according to Xi’an News. 

The nature of the cargo moved by these new flights also sees a commonality. Like the electronic components moved via the new Korean Air flight, Longhao’s flights leaving XIY carried high-value general cargo, including electronic components and semi-conductors, and return from HAN with seafood and other perishables. The increased number of flights between East and Southeast Asia continues a growing trend in demand for luxury imports in even secondary cities in China sufficient to warrant direct international freighter connections.  

More recently, XIY signed an agreement with Budapest Airport (BUD) to increase connections between the two airports last month, suggesting we can expect to see more route announcements over the coming months. The anticipated development of flights to Eastern and Western Europe, linking to cities such as Budapest, Moscow and onward, will likely feed into this trend given those areas machinery, chemical, petrochemical, health care and agricultural industries.

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Chelsea Toczauer

Chelsea Toczauer is the Associate Editor of the company’s daily news and monthly magazine Air Cargo World. She holds two BAs in International Relations and Asian Languages and Cultures from the University of Southern California, as well as a double accredited US-Chinese MA in International Studies from the Johns Hopkins University-Nanjing University joint degree program. Chelsea speaks Mandarin and Russian.