Logistical headache in Vietnam with booming air freight exports to US

VIETNAM's booming exports to the US are causing a logistical headache for freighter operators as the trade gap between the two countries continues to widen.

AirBridgeCargo (ABC) saw a 53 per cent increase in Vietnam volumes so far this year, after upping weekly lift from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi to two and three flights respectively.

Eric Lamare, the carrier's vice president Asia and Pacific for scheduled cargo operations, told The Loadstar the impressive growth had been largely fuelled by US demand.

"We put into place dedicated operations into the US for specific customers, and this is where the biggest growth is happening," he said on the sidelines of the recent Air Freight Logistics Vietnam conference in Ho Chi Minh City.

"Also, because of the shift in production from China to Vietnam, we see more demand into the US, which is naturally showing faster growth from Vietnam than Europe at the moment."

Mr Lamare said the manufacturing shift from China was not solely down to the trade war, however, and was so far limited in scope. There could be a larger shift in 2020, he believed, given the time it takes to move production, reports London's Loadstar.

Still, Vietnam's exports to the US, its biggest trading partner, surged 33 per cent year on year, to US$36 billion for the first seven months of 2019, according to US Census Bureau data. US exports to Vietnam were valued at $5.9 billion, meaning the trade deficit increased 39 per cent on the same period last year.

"For us, the imbalance is huge," said Mr Lamare. "We already operate two stops on these Vietnam flights; most of the inbound cargo is going to other destinations like Singapore or Taiwan.

"Then we have to position the flights for exports from Vietnam. Only around 30 per cent of the tonnage arriving is for Vietnam, meaning we need to operate smartly with freighters to make these operations profitable."

He said inbound volumes included project cargo, aircraft engines and some pharmaceutical products, while exports remained dominated by garments, footwear and, increasingly, electronics.

Another challenge is Vietnam's creaking infrastructure and its capacity for future growth. National volumes jumped 13 per cent to 1.5 million tonnes last year, with additional growth of at least 10 per cent expected this year. Officials predict annual throughput to reach 2.2 million tonnes by 2020.

"The airports are already quite congested with passenger aircraft, and there's something like 80 freighters a week out of Hanoi and 50 from Ho Chi Minh, which is more congested. Plus there's seven Vietnamese airlines and they don't have freighters yet," explained Mr Lamare.

"So slots will be an issue. We already have restrictions on freighters, so it will be a challenge when we need to increase the frequency of the flights to cope with demand."

There is a new airport planned outside Ho Chi Minh City at Long Thanh, but Mr Lamare said it was "doubtful" the $5.4 billion project would be completed within five years.

As for the remainder of 2019, he said most customers were not expecting a strong peak season from Vietnam.

HK's air cargo volume continues to slide with a 11.5pc dip in August throughput

HONG Kong International Airport (HKIA), a major international hub, handled 382,000 tonnes of cargo volume in August, a decline of 11.5 per cent year on year in cargo throughput.

HKIA said in a statement that the decline in air cargo volume was mainly attributed to global trade uncertainties pointing out that among the key trading regions, the figures for Southeast Asia and Mainland China decreased most significantly.

The airport reported a 7.3 per cent cargo volume decline in July.

HKIA statistics showed that August transshipments and imports declined by 19 per cent and 15 per cent year on year, respectively.

Meanwhile, passenger traffic dipped 12.4 per cent, handling 5.59 million passengers and 35,655 air traffic movements in August.The decline was mainly due to a decrease in visitor traffic from around the region.

"Passenger traffic to and from Mainland China, Southeast Asia and Taiwan experienced significant declines compared to August 2018," said a statement from HKIA.

The fall in air traffic numbers comes as Hong Kong's anti-government protests over a now-withdrawn extradition bill run into their 15th consecutive weekend. Further violent clashes broke out on Sunday after an unauthorised march went ahead, with riot police firing tear gas and water cannons and protesters launching petrol bombs.

The airport has also been a key protest target. In August, protests inside the terminal forced operations to temporarily close and grounded hundreds of flights, while rallies outside blocked transport routes including the freeway leading to the airport. Dozens of countries have issued travel warnings for Hong Kong and the number of visitor arrivals fell substantially in the first half of August, according to official preliminary data, reports CNN.

China continues pressure, probes Cathay's empty oxygen bottles

HONG KONG's Cathay Pacific Airways. which showed too much sympathy for protesters at the big airport demonstration August 12 for Beijing's liking, is under investigation by Chinese regulators after emergency oxygen bottles on three flights were found depleted or completely empty, reports Bloomberg.

Cathay officials said it was highly unusual for so many oxygen bottles on three flights were found to be depleted or empty.

Cabin crew from the flights have been grounded so they can help with the probe, Cathay told staff in a memo. As well as the Civil Aviation Administration of China, Hong Kong authorities and local police are also investigating, the note said.

Pre-flight inspections discovered 13 oxygen canisters - designed to be used by crew in an emergency depressurisation of the cabin - that were partially or fully discharged, Cathay said.

The inquiry is another headache for the airline's new chief executive officer, Augustus Tang, weeks after Chinese regulators threatened to bar Cathay from the mainland because some staff supported the Hong Kong protests.

Cathay group cargo volume drops 14pc in August to 161,394 tonnes

HONG KONG's Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon declared that its August cargo volume declined 14 per cent year on year to 161,394 tonnes.

The cargo and mail load factor fell by 7.5 percentage points to 60.9 per cent. Capacity, measured in available freight tonne kilometres (AFTKs), was down by 0.6 per cent while cargo and mail revenue freight tonne kilometres (RFTKs) dropped by 11.6 per cent.

In the first eight months of 2019, the tonnage fell by 7.1 per cent against a 0.8 per cent increase in capacity and a 7.2 per cent decrease in RFTKs, as compared to the same period for 2018.

onnage further deteriorated month-to-month across all regions, driven in particular by slow demand over the holiday season in different parts of the world, the effects of tropical storms and disruptions at Hong Kong International Airport," said chief commercial officer Ronald Lam.

"Ongoing geopolitical tensions continued to affect overall market sentiment. Nevertheless, our outlook for September is slightly more positive and we expect to see demand progressively improve, driven by project shipments and the restocking of inventory as we enter the traditionally high-demand season,?he said.There was also and 11.3 per cent year-on-year drop in August passenger volume to 2,906,954. Passenger load factor decreased by 7.2 percentage points to 79.9 per cent, while capacity, measured in available seat kilometres (ASKs), rose by 5.1 per cent.

In the first eight months of 2019, the number of passengers carried grew by 2.2 per cent and capacity increased by 6.5 per cent, as compared to the same period for 2018.

Said Mr Lam: "We remain optimistic in the medium term. The strong commitment to our brand and customer experience remains unchanged. Our investments in new aircraft and enhancing the customer experience will continue, giving travellers more reasons to fly with us.?

Asia Pacific air cargo demand slips 7.7pc amid worsening trade tensions

AIRLINES based in Asia Pacific suffered a 7.7 per cent drop in air cargo demand, as measured in freight tonne kilometres (FTK), in July compared to the same month last year on the back of lower export volumes and ongoing weakness in the region's air cargo markets, data compiled by the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) showed.

AAPA was cited as saying in a report by London's Air Cargo News that "mounting trade tensions, alongside deteriorating business confidence levels" contributed to further decreases in orders for goods.

"The markedly lower demand, coupled with almost flat expansion in offered freight capacity, by 0.4 per cent, led to a 5.2 percentage point decline in the average international freight load factor, to 58.9 per cent for the month," the association said.

In contrast, the AAPA's member airlines saw international air passenger demand continue to rise in July, with passenger numbers up 3.4 per cent year on year to total 32.5 million.

Commenting on the air cargo results, AAPA director general Andrew Herdman said that global trade conditions deteriorated further, "as higher tariffs disrupted global supply chains, and Asian airlines saw international air cargo demand fall by 6.2 per cent during the first seven months of the year."

He added: "The weakness in air cargo markets is likely to extend into the coming months, unless we see some meaningful progress in trade negotiations."