With the commencement of China Cargo’s services on September 23, Lambert-St. Louis International Airport made progress in establishing what airport officials refer to as the Aerotropolis airfreight hub. The flights, which will be performed on Boeing 777 and 747 freighters, represent the first phase of the Midwest‐China Hub Commission’s economic development program.
China Cargo’s inaugural flight to Lambert arrived to much fanfare, as more than 100 international and state leaders celebrated the new service. The aircraft, which transported between 80 and 100 tonnes of high-value cargo, left nearly as quickly as it arrived, however; outbound freight from the Midwestern U.S. was immediately transported to Shanghai.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, who attended the launch ceremony, praised the new service. “Instead of being connected to the rest of country, we’re here connected to rest of the world,” he stated. “We’re starting small, but together we can build something big.”
This service marks a significant milestone in Lambert’s quest to become an international airfreight hub and gateway to Asia. The airport received a giant push in that direction earlier this month, as Missouri legislators passed a bill providing incentives to companies building cargo-storage facilities in its vicinity.
It’s an advantage that undoubtedly attracted China Cargo to Lambert. In fact, the carrier recently announced that Lambert’s own Airport Terminal Services, in conjunction with its partner Worldwide Flight Services, will provide the ground-handling and warehousing services that commenced last Friday.
ATS President and Chief Operating Officer Sally Leible said the partnership will boost China Cargo’s operations. “We are immensely excited to be a part of this pioneering opportunity with the city of St. Louis to stimulate a new global trade lane with China,” she said in a statement. “We have created a dynamic partnership by combining our 35-plus-year history of operating at the St. Louis airport with Worldwide Flight Services’ specific knowledge of China Cargo Airlines to produce a winning result.”
Some aviation insiders aren’t convinced, however. Webber Air Cargo President Michael Webber, for instance, thinks Lambert’s vision of a global Aerotropolis is nothing more than a pipe dream.
“St. Louis’ big idea is a $400 million speculative venture that from inception excludes participation from global integrated carriers DHL, FedEx and UPS that account for about 90 percent of the current St. Louis market but already have established hubs in the region,” he wrote in an editorial distributed last month. And then there’s the fact that St. Louis will be competing with regional cargo giants, such as Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
“O’Hare also hosts freighter operations from many of these passenger carriers, as well as international all-cargo airlines such as Japanese operator Nippon Cargo Airlines and European all-cargo [powerhouse] Cargolux,” Webber continued. “Before St. Louis even begins, almost all of the domestic and international market has already been excluded.”
Whether Webber’s remarks prove correct or not, Lambert officials hope the commencement of China Cargo’s service will begin to silence detractors