Cathay Cargo hits the new year, running

The airline’s rebranding strategy which began late last year, is more than just a name change and livery refresh. Cathay Cargo’s focus is on customer care, digital innovation, and specialist solutions, and highlights its long-standing experience in its claim: “We know how”. The company’s press releases since DEC23, tell a much more positive story than the many troubles the airline faced during the pandemic.

The first Hong Kong cargo terminal operator to provide end-to-end digitalized import collection – image photos: Cathay Cargo

The first of its 20 B747 freighters left the hangar in its fresh, new livery last month, just a few weeks after Cathay Cargo announced plans to invest in next-generation Airbus A350F freighters as part of its strategy to become the world’s most customer-centric air cargo service brand and strengthen Hong Kong as the world’s number one air cargo hub. A firm order for six aircraft was placed [planned delivery from 2027] with the option for a further 20.

At the time, Cathay Group Chief Executive Officer, Ronald Lam, explained: “As we move into 2024, our rebuild journey is gaining momentum. This order marks another major component in our investment for the future. It reflects Cathay’s confidence in the Hong Kong hub as we look ahead to the opportunities provided by the Three-Runway System. These highly fuel-efficient, next-generation freighters will provide important additional cargo capacity, expand our global network, and contribute to our sustainability leadership goals.”

Fuel efficiency starts with SAF
Those sustainability leadership goals were demonstrated mid-January, when Cathay welcomed three new partners to its Corporate Sustainable Aviation Fuel Program. In 2022, Cathay was one of the world’s first airlines to set an SAF target and wants to reach a target of 10% SAF for its total fuel use by 2030. It uplifted SAF at Hong Kong International Airport for the first time that year, branching out to SAF uplifts from Singapore Changi Airport and Los Angeles International Airport, the following year. Now, Cathay Cargo customers, Dimerco Express Group, Yusen Logistics, and NGO partner, Business Environment Council, have joined AIA, Airport Authority Hong Kong (AAHK), Kintetsu World Express (KWE), PwC China, Standard Chartered and Swire Pacific, in Cathay’s SAF initiative. Lam commented: “We have received strong support from our corporate and cargo customers since the launch of our Corporate SAF Program [and] convey a clear message to the SAF supply chain that there is firm demand from this part of the world.”

 Working together with ExxonMobil and Shell, Cathay’s SAF is made from used cooking oil and animal fat waste. The airline also signed a MoU last year with State Power Investment Corporation (SPIC) to drive the further development of the SAF supply chain in China.

Pioneering full end-to-end digital import processes in HKG
Cathay Cargo’s latest news is the launch of Electronic Shipment Release Forms (eSRF), at its cargo terminal in Hong Kong, which enables end-to-end digitalized import collection. Not only does the new eSRF feature make for a much faster, more efficient, and flexible import process for all involved stakeholders, it is also more secure than its manual counterpart, not to mention sustainable, since it does away with paper documents and their storage requirements. “Under the new process, an eSRF can be issued through electronic authentication. Airlines can issue the eSRF to freight forwarders or consignees for pre-registration, automatic truck dock allocation, and online queuing for cargo clearance. With the inspection confirmation being recorded electronically, a cargo release confirmation will be shown on the mobile device,” the release states.

The feature forms an integral part of the Import Air Cargo Collection Digitalization Module of Airport Authority Hong Kong’s (AAHK) HKIA Cargo Data Platform and Cathay Cargo is now the first cargo terminal operator in Hong Kong to provide full end-to-end digital import process. It pioneered the solution together with AAHK and in collaboration with the Hong Kong Association of Freight Forwarding and Logistics (HAFFA), airlines, cargo agents, truckers, and regulators.

A digital game-changer for cargo
Cathay Cargo Terminal Chief Operating Officer, Mark Watts, emphasized: “The introduction of eSRF is a real game changer – akin to the introduction of e-tickets in passenger aviation. We are proud to have worked hand-in-hand with the AAHK to make this a reality. Our customers are increasingly looking to leverage digitalization to unlock efficiency and transparency, while also looking to work with common standards and true community solutions that enable them to share data quickly across the supply chains with minimal integration. The HKIA Cargo Data Platform serves as an enabler in driving such transformational change for the industry. The introduction of eSRF reinforces our position as a digital leader in the cargo terminal industry, further strengthens Hong Kong International Airport as the leading international aviation hub and is another milestone to help us meet our vision of becoming the world’s most customer-centric cargo terminal.”

Cathay Cargo’s first freighter showcasing the carrier’s new livery.

Positive figures as a good foundation
Cathay’s recently published cargo figures for DEC23 and the entire past year, are also “encouraging”, as the airline itself states. It reported having transported 128,546 tons of cargo that month, which translates into a 20.7% increase compared with DEC22. e-commerce, perishables, and particularly live animals (mainly racehorse transports to and from Hong Kong’s international race events), were the strongest commodities in the final month of 2023. Overall, the airline transported near to 1.4 million tons of air cargo in 2023 – a clear increase on the 1.2 million tons carried the previous year. “We expect cargo demand to steadily pick up from the second half of the month with the e-commerce demand on the Americas and European lanes remaining solid and local demand strengthening up to the Lunar New Year holidays,” Cathay predicted in its JAN24 press release.

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