AF KLM looks for deeper links with China Southern

Air France KLM Martinair Cargo is already looking beyond the first phase of its new freight network and ground handling partnership agreement with China Southern Cargo.
Bram Gräber, executive vice president of the European carrier’s cargo division, said: “We are pragmatic cargo people, so let’s call this agreement phase one. It is a good first step but with a limited number of destinations on both sides.
“Let’s make it work in phase one and then we have the ambition to implement phases two and three that will deepen and broaden the agreement.”
The new pairing, announced last week, will link China Southern Cargo’s Asia Pacific network with the European, African and the transatlantic coverage provided by the Franco-Netherlands carrier.
The partners – both are already in the 20 carrier SkyTeam Cargo alliance – will offer a combination of widebody and maindeck capacity on the Europe-China leg and access to an extensive global network.
AF KLM Martinair Cargo will serve the main cities in Australia and supply maindeck capacity to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh from the China Southern Cargo hub at Guangzhou.
Paris-Charles de Gaulle or Amsterdam Schiphol will provide China Southern Cargo with access to capacity to the North and South Atlantic markets – including Atlanta, Miami, Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires – as well as capacity to Africa, with both European hubs serving Lagos.
The first stage of the agreement will see reciprocal ground handling facilities at each partner’s hubs. The agreement also covers mutual access to the airlines’ respective networks through interlining special pro-rate agreements (SPAs).
Gräber added: “We all have to take strong measures to remain competitive. AF KLM does not operate freighters to mainland China anymore, because we decided to be less exposed. However, we still want to be involved in that market and have the highest number of direct passenger connections to China.
“I think we could also develop the market by connecting China Southern’s freighters – 12 per week to Amsterdam Schiphol and three per week to Paris CDG – to the rest of our network, which means South America, North America and Africa, where we have strong flows.
“Together we are stronger vis-a-vis our competitors in the fight for the same space, between China and those continents I mentioned, especially South America, which is a bit of a struggle today although the long term structural development remains very interesting.
“The two airlines together can make more sense than one or the other alone.”
China Southern Cargo operates twelve Boeing 777-200 and two B747-400 freighters. AF KLM Martinair Cargo currently offers maindeck capacity on two B777Fs, four B747-400Fs, four MD-11Fs and 15 B747-400 Combis. 
Asked why the two partners needed to ink a formal agreement when they are both SkyTeam members, Gräber described SkyTeam as a “red carpet to enter together into cooperation,” but added: “Bilateral co-operation always remains the responsibility of the individual airlines.”
The ground handling aspect of the partnership is a key component, said Gräber, because in terms of systems “there are more hurdles than the way in which we connect on the passenger side”.
He added: “As part of this agreement we also have quite specific handling procedures and processes designed to make this work in practical terms, with good connectivity, because if individual shipments either get lost or need two days to make a transit, then it is useless.
“As a result we have put a lot of emphasis on the pragmatism of connecting these networks, and although that perhaps sounds obvious, it is also quite an effort.”
When asked about speculation that Volga-Dnepr’s AirBridgeCargo (ABC) wanted to establish a tie-up with with Martinair, Gräber said: “Of course we can see the reasoning, but we chose to link-up not only our belly network but also the freighter network, including Martinair, with China Southern as the preferred partner.”

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