Hopes for a bullish Year of the Dragon

Director Cargo Tom Owen looks forward to another challenging year filled with more innovation

I write to you just ahead of Chinese New Year, the last apex of the traditional winter peak period. I’m pleased to report that we have been following tradition by finishing 2023 on something of a high, fuelled primarily by e-commerce. As some of the inflationary pressures eased and consumer confidence grew over the course of last year, the appetite for online retail intensified in almost every market but especially across the Americas. So many of these in-demand goods are produced or sourced from the southern part of the Chinese Mainland, making our Hong Kong hub ideally placed to help us capture our share of this business.

We ended the year by strengthening our intermodal links with our extended home market in the Greater Bay Area (GBA). We have now commenced imports between Hong Kong International Airport and our new Cathay Cargo Terminal in Dongguan, with the first commercial import shipments heading by boat directly from the airport into this giant consumer market. We will work this year to encourage the industry to make use of this intermodal route and hopefully even out the differential flow between exports and imports. Later in the year, we will also look at our cross-border trucking options to the GBA and further north into the heart of the Chinese Mainland.

The other year-end highlight was the confirmation of our order of six next-generation A350F freighters, which will start to join our fleet from 2027, and securing the right to acquire 20 more of these wide-body freighters. These will not only be exciting additions to our fleet, but also demonstrate our long-term confidence in Hong Kong. These aircraft will allow us to grow our capacity as Hong Kong moves towards three-runway operations, which are scheduled to be ready end of this year, and help to deploy that capacity in new and creative ways.

Looking ahead to 2024, we have another seemingly challenging year to come. In market terms, while last year was something of a return to normalisation, helped by some recovery in consumer confidence, there is still market uncertainty. We will need to remain vigilant and alert to opportunities and challenges. Supply chains may come under pressure early from events in the Red Sea and Panama Canal, and we will need to hone the agility we learned during the pandemic to respond quickly to any market fluctuations and changes in customer needs.

From our own perspective in 2024, we expect to have a busy year.We aim to build on the success of our rebranding last year and our first marketing campaign by keeping up the pace of our digitisation programme on the operational and commercial sides of the business, while refreshing and relaunching more of our special handling solutions. This year the focus will be on demonstrating to the market how and why We Know How across our suite of special handling solutions and increased digitisation.

An early opportunity to do that will be in March, when we will be the official airline for the IATA World Cargo Symposium (WCS) 2024. This will be a great opportunity to showcase the infrastructure that helps preserve Hong Kong’s status as the world’s busiest air-cargo hub, as well as some of our own innovations and expertise. Please register at the IATA website as we look forward to welcoming you to see how Hong Kong is very much back in business and intent on maintaining its top hub status. We’re equally excited to welcome you to the Hong Kong Sevens rugby in the city a little later in the year between 5-7 April.

Hong Kong is also where we are preparing to celebrate a relatively early Chinese New Year, so it just remains for me to extend my best wishes to all for a happy and prosperous 2024, and a heartfelt kung hei fat choy as we prepare to embark on the Year of the Dragon.