Amazon has been a major player in expanding into extensive, branded air fleets, setting a benchmark in the industry. However, other companies are also tapping into air transport differently, such as through express delivery services or postal systems, or by arranging their chartered flights as needed. Not every company has reached the operational volume to support large-scale, personalized air cargo operations. Yet, Alibaba and JD.com are rapidly advancing in this arena, steadily catching up with Amazon as they continue to scale up and diversify their air freight capabilities through strategic partnerships.
In 2023, Cainiao, Alibaba Group’s logistics subsidiary, significantly advanced its international logistics operations. Cainiao’s partnership with Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport to inaugurate an air cargo center is a significant milestone, bolstering its dedicated flying services for other platforms. This facility is instrumental in streamlining logistics for cross-border e-commerce, particularly between China and Latin America. The newly established air route from Shenzhen to São Paulo, serviced by Atlas Air, operates with a significant loading capacity of over 220 tons per flight and runs bi-weekly, exemplifying the enhanced dedicated service offerings to Cainiao’s partners and customers.
The air cargo center is designed to increase parcel processing efficiency by up to 30%, enabling round-the-clock operations, crucial for handling the volumes from various platforms that engage Cainiao for logistics services. With an IPO on the horizon, aiming to raise around $1 billion, Cainiao is showcasing its capability to handle logistics for a diverse range of e-commerce platforms. Maneuvering over 4 million parcels daily to overseas destinations, Cainiao’s infrastructure expansion and investment in logistics hubs and warehouses globally support this diversified customer base. For instance, the investments in Europe, including a $110 million logistics hub in Belgium and a $65 million joint venture with DHL in Poland, directly contribute to the service quality for all platforms utilizing Cainiao’s logistics services.
In tandem with its infrastructure investment, Cainiao maintains a robust air charter operation, with about 200 flights a month, serving various platforms and their needs. These flights not only connect China with Southeast Asia and Latin America but also between key global cities, reflecting the growing demand for efficient logistics solutions by a multitude of e-commerce players.
The strategic expansions and partnerships from 2022 set a precedent for Cainiao’s current operations. The collaboration with BEST for services to Southeast Asia and with LATAM and Atlas Air for Latin American routes underscores the dedicated flying services provided to platforms seeking to tap into the e-commerce growth and connect with Cainiao’s logistics network. Lastly, Cainiao’s commitment to external platforms is evident in its China-based initiatives, with 20 logistics centers enabling SMEs to leverage Cainiao’s distribution network for global exports. These centers are critical junctions in Cainiao’s network, facilitating package consolidation and distribution for a multitude of platforms and their merchants.
In 2023, JD Airlines has made notable advancements in providing dedicated flying for other platforms, expanding beyond its initial domestic focus to include international freight services. The strategic expansion utilizes JD Logistics’ robust infrastructure, aligning with the growing demand for diversified air cargo capacity in China and internationally.
JD Airlines has successfully established new all-cargo routes within China, optimizing its existing network that includes over 1,000 air transportation routes and access to more than 100 airports. This expansion serves JD Logistics’ supply chain needs and offers ample capacity for other e-commerce platforms and independent operators requiring cargo services. For example, the Beijing-Wuhu-Nantong and Shenzhen-Wuxi routes have enhanced the logistics transportation efficiency in their respective regions, providing additional options for platforms in need of reliable air transport solutions.
The airline’s foray into international routes, with the Shenzhen-Ho Chi Minh City connection as a prime example, presents a blueprint for future services catering to cross-border e-commerce parcels and exports. This development is significant for platforms specializing in international trade, as it opens up more efficient channels for cargo movement between China and Southeast Asia.
Facing competition from established carriers like YTO and SF Express, JD Airlines distinguishes itself by focusing on integrating JD Logistics’ technology and infrastructure with the specific needs of third-party users. This approach is evidenced by its commitment to expanding its global reach and enhancing transportation capabilities to service other platforms effectively.
With plans to extend its network to other critical markets in Asia and ambitions to reach North America, Europe, and the Middle East by 2025, JD Airlines is strategically positioning itself as a key player in dedicated air cargo services for a range of logistics platforms, aiming to offer increased air capacity and logistic service options on a global scale.