A New 24-Mile Cargo Flight To Hong Kong…

A New 24-Mile Cargo Flight To Hong Kong…

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A Chinese cargo airline is operating what might just be the least efficient cargo route in the world. As you’d expect, there’s a reason for the route, though.

SF Airlines’ Shenzhen to Hong Kong flight

SF Airlines is a Chinese cargo airline based in Shenzhen, operating a fleet of roughly 70 cargo jets, ranging from the Boeing 737 to the Boeing 747 (by the way, the airline has a pretty cool livery, eh?).

SF Airlines Boeing 747-400

The airline operates a variety of short and long haul cargo routes. What’s noteworthy is that the airline has just launched its shortest route yet, between Shenzhen (SZX) and Hong Kong (HKG). The airports are just 24 miles apart, and historically it has been possible to take a train between the two cities in just 15 minutes.

Shenzhen and Hong Kong are 24 miles apart

On March 19, 2022, SF Airlines launched a new cargo flight between Shenzhen and Hong Kong. The flight times here are kind of unbelievable.

For example, on March 19, flight O37291 operated from Shenzhen to Hong Kong. Even though the flight should cover a distance of just 24 miles, the flight took 36 minutes, climbed all the way up to 12,000 feet, and flew 170 miles, over 700% of the direct distance between the two airports.

Credit: Flightradar24

The flight in the other direction, O37292, operated from Hong Kong to Shenzhen, shortly thereafter. This flight took “only” 20 minutes, “only” climbed up to 8,000 feet, and “only” flew an actual distance of 93 miles.

Credit: Flightradar24

Why is this flight necessary?

It goes without saying that operating a 36 minute Boeing 767 flight to move some cargo to a destination 24 miles away is… not efficient. So what’s the purpose of this flight?

  • In recent weeks, Hong Kong has seen a massive coronavirus outbreak, causing mainland China to largely cut off links to Hong Kong; there have been limited train services, etc.
  • Prior to this new flight, SF Airlines had stopped cargo shipments to Hong Kong due to the outbreak; for that matter, there had been a lot of issues with the logistics of shipping stuff to Hong Kong
  • While flying cargo to Hong Kong seems inefficient, presumably some of this cargo isn’t actually staying in Hong Kong, but rather is connecting onto other flights from Hong Kong Airport

No matter how you slice it, this is highly inefficient. However, in the context of China’s approach toward coronavirus, as well as mainland China largely closing off shipments to Hong Kong, this isn’t that surprising.

This reminds me a bit of FedEx’s 18-mile flight that operated during the pandemic between San Diego and Tijuana, intended to make shipments between the United States and Mexico easier.

Bottom line

Chinese cargo carrier SF Airlines has launched a new service between Shenzhen and Hong Kong, using a Boeing 767. This is (by far) the carrier’s shortest route. While the flight covers a direct distance of only 24 miles, in reality the flight can take 35+ minutes, based on the traffic patterns airlines have to fly in congested airspace.

This has to take the cake for one of the least efficient cargo routes out there. Though I suppose at the moment it might be a necessary evil.

What do you make of SF Airlines’ Shenzhen to Hong Kong route?

(Tip of the hat to @FATIIIAviation)

Conversations (17)
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  1. Brad Guest

    15 minute train? Man I remember taking being like 2 hours.

    1. Stanley C Gold

      Yes, Ben is absolutely correct. There is a high speed railway network linking SZ and HK for a few years now (2018). It also links GZ.

    2. Daniel Guest

      There are many train stations in China and they're usually separated by North, West, East, South. The train station in GZ you're probably thinking of is Guangzhou East (city center of guangzhou) which still takes 2 hours. The high speed train takes you the GZ South, which is still about a 30 min car ride to the city center (if theres no traffic). So depending where you are going, East is still the most convenient for travelers between the two cities.

    3. aled Guest

      There is now a high speed bullet train connecting the two cities. 15 minutes is all it takes at 200 mph

  2. Christian Guest

    Doesn't that upper deck look too short to make that a 747-400?

    1. AJO Guest

      Nope, the cargo version of the -400 has a short upper deck because there’s no need for more space upstairs.

  3. HkCaGu Guest

    Flying from China to HK or Macau involves switching from meters to feet. Normal handoffs from HK to China require 15k feet minimum altitude (that’s why after HKG departure they have to lengthen the climb) but this flight is probably carefully coordinated. Flights from China into HKG normally get handed off near Macau at 20k feet, and have to loop around the sea to burn off altitudes. This one was 12k feet. All these restrictions...

    Flying from China to HK or Macau involves switching from meters to feet. Normal handoffs from HK to China require 15k feet minimum altitude (that’s why after HKG departure they have to lengthen the climb) but this flight is probably carefully coordinated. Flights from China into HKG normally get handed off near Macau at 20k feet, and have to loop around the sea to burn off altitudes. This one was 12k feet. All these restrictions due to radar and airspace limitations.

  4. Gabriel Guest

    Not only Hong Kong is having a huge COVID wave right now, Shenzhen was locked down by China also (something Ben didn't mention).

  5. DenB Diamond

    Efficiency can quickly become subjective. Why send anything nonperishable by aviation? Why would compnies pay good money for a more expensive shipping method for dry goods? People's time is part of efficiency. Also there's Ben's point, that much of the cargo isn't likely terminating in HKG. Air cargo operates as networks, not point-to-point. that "inefficient" flight is part of a network. Say the border's open. Tell 10 shippers in Shenzhen that to ship to Los...

    Efficiency can quickly become subjective. Why send anything nonperishable by aviation? Why would compnies pay good money for a more expensive shipping method for dry goods? People's time is part of efficiency. Also there's Ben's point, that much of the cargo isn't likely terminating in HKG. Air cargo operates as networks, not point-to-point. that "inefficient" flight is part of a network. Say the border's open. Tell 10 shippers in Shenzhen that to ship to Los Angeles, each must transport his one pallet to HKG airport in his own separate truck. That's 10 trucks driving to HKG, perhaps all returning to Shenzhen empty. 10 men, 10 motors burning fuel, 10 payrolls, 10 slower shipments.

    Not sure, at all, that this flight is worse than the alternative.

    1. Eskimo Guest

      I think you're confusing efficiency and being cheap.

    2. DenB Diamond

      I'm sure you're right. But I'm not confusing substance with snark.

    3. Eskimo Guest

      I think you're confusing substance with snark.

  6. D.A. Guest

    Yup, SAN-TIJ is all of 18 miles on FedEx

  7. Jeremy G Guest

    San Diegian here...can confirm that SAN-TIJ FedEx flight still exists and operates!

    1. Eskimo Guest

      It might be better to outsource it to cartels. They likely operate an empty leg from USA.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

AJO Guest

Nope, the cargo version of the -400 has a short upper deck because there’s no need for more space upstairs.

1
Eskimo Guest

I think you're confusing substance with snark.

0
aled Guest

There is now a high speed bullet train connecting the two cities. 15 minutes is all it takes at 200 mph

0
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