Asia’s first professional cargo hub airport opened in central China
A Boeing 767-300 cargo plane took off at 11:36 a.m. Sunday from Ezhou Huahu Airport in central China’s Hubei Province, marking the official start of operations at China’s first professional cargo hub airport.
Located in the city of Ezhou, it is also the first professional cargo hub airport in Asia and the fourth of its kind in the world.
The new airport, equipped with a 23,000 square meter cargo terminal, nearly 700,000 square meter cargo transit center, 124 parking stands and two runways, is expected to improve transportation efficiency air freight and further promote the opening of the country.
The operation of Ezhou Huahu Airport is in line with China’s development needs, said Su Xiaoyan, senior director of the airport’s planning and development department.
The number of parcels handled by Chinese courier companies hit a record high of more than 108 billion last year and is expected to maintain steady growth in 2022, according to the State Post Bureau.
The functions of Ezhou Airport are compared to those of Memphis International Airport in the United States, one of the busiest cargo airports in the world.
SF Express, China’s leading logistics service provider, plays a crucial role at Ezhou Airport, just as FedEx Express handles the majority of cargo at Memphis International Airport.
SF Express holds a 46% stake in Hubei International Logistics Airport Co., Ltd., the operator of Ezhou Huahu Airport. The logistics service provider has independently built a freight forwarding center, a freight sorting center and an air base at the new airport. SF Express also plans to process the majority of its parcels through the new airport in the future.
“As a cargo hub, Ezhou Huazhu Airport will help SF Express form a new comprehensive logistics network,” said Pan Le, director of the airport’s IT department.
“Regardless of the destination, all SF Airlines cargo can be transferred and sorted in Ezhou before being forwarded to other cities in China,” Pan said, adding that such a transportation network will enable SF Express cargo planes to operate at full capacity, thereby improving transportation efficiency.
The landlocked city of Ezhou is hundreds of kilometers from all seaports. But with the new airport, goods from Ezhou can reach anywhere in China overnight and overseas destinations within two days.
“The airport will promote the opening up of China’s central region and the whole country,” said Yin Junwu, director of the Ezhou Airport Economic Zone Management Committee, adding that airlines air and maritime companies from the United States, Germany, France and Russia have already reached out to establish cooperation with the airport.
Besides cargo flights, the airport also provides passenger flight services for eastern Hubei. Seven passenger lines linking Ezhou with nine destinations, including Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Kunming, have been put into operation.
The airport has opened two cargo routes to Shenzhen and Shanghai, and is expected to add international routes connecting Osaka in Japan and Frankfurt in Germany later this year.
The airport is expected to open around 10 international cargo routes and 50 domestic routes by 2025, with cargo and mail throughput reaching 2.45 million tons.
Backed by state-of-the-art technology
As the only professional cargo hub airport in China, Ezhou Huahu Airport has made breakthroughs in digitalization and intelligent operation. Project builders have filed more than 70 patents and copyrights for new technologies, such as 5G, big data, cloud computing and artificial intelligence, to make the new airport safer, greener and more clever.
For example, there are more than 50,000 sensors under the runway to capture the vibration waveform generated by aircraft taxiing and monitor the runway incursion.
Thanks to an intelligent goods sorting system, work efficiency in the logistics transfer center has been greatly improved. With this intelligent system, the planned production capacity of the transfer center is 280,000 packages per hour in the short term, up to 1.16 million pieces per hour in the long term.
As it is a cargo hub, cargo planes mainly take off and land at night. To save human labor and keep airports safe and efficient, airport operators hope that more machines can be deployed to replace humans in night work.
“We spent nearly a year testing unmanned vehicles in designated areas on the apron, with the goal of building an unmanned apron in the future,” Pan said.