IAG Cargo’s China Restart: Behind the Scenes 

IAG Cargo has welcomed China back to its network with the restart of services between London Heathrow and Shanghai, and will soon be resuming flights between London and Beijing. To mark this key moment we spoke with Liam Bowen, Business Manager of Asia Pacific, India, and the Middle East at IAG Cargo, to find about Chinas most popular exports, the team’s accomplishments during COVID, and more opportunities to come.

Liam Bowen, Business Manager for Asia Pacific, India, and the Middle East at IAG Cargo

How will the reopening of passenger travel effect cargo movements to and from the region?

China has the largest manufacturing output of any country in the world, so, as an air cargo carrier, it’s an important market for us. It manufactures a wide range of commodities, including high-tech IT, eCommerce, auto parts, garments, and chemicals. Customers have not stopped asking when our flights will restart and we are thrilled to be able to offer direct services into London from both Shanghai and Beijing again. 

So when will flights restart, and how often? 

Daily flights from London to Shanghai (PVG) resumed on 23rd of April utilising a 787-9 aircraft, and then following this, flights from London to Beijing (PKX) will restart four times a week from 3rd June, with a Boeing 777-200. 


What is the main difference between the Shanghai and Beijing hub?

Manufacturing in China is focused around the South & East of the country, closer to Shanghai and also Hong Kong. Whilst Beijing has less manufacturing activity close to the city, shipments are trucked from the South into Beijing for export.


How did you ensure global trade kept moving during the pandemic restrictions in China?

During the onset of the pandemic many factories in China temporarily shifted to manufacturing masks, test kits, and other PPE. The team started a programme of cargo-only flights and charters using passenger aircraft. We removed seats from some of our aircraft to allow for additional space, and on others, boxes of PPE replaced passengers on seats and luggage in overhead lockers. In 2020 and 2021, IAG Cargo operated 700 charters and 160 cargo-only flights out of China across British Airways, Iberia, and Aer Lingus metal.

When did IAG Cargo start operating cargo-only services to and from China?

The first cargo only flight departed from Shanghai to London on 13th April 2020, however PPE charter flights into Dublin and Madrid started from the end of March 2020.  

Biggest challenge during the pandemic?

Setting up flight operations with the GHA (Ground Handling Agents) at extremely short notice. This involved organising new processes for loading cargo boxes into the passenger cabins, which is something the team had not done before, as well as liaising with the government to arrange slots for various charters. There were also tight turnarounds for some of our flights due to crew restrictions.

Biggest accomplishment during the pandemic?

We set up a new operation from Shenzhen airport in the south of China, where IAG Cargo had not flown to before, within just 72 hours to support the transportation of urgent PPE into Spain with Iberia.

Any commodities that were unavailable in the region during this time?

Capacity from China was highly constrained following the cancellation of passenger flights. There was an urgent need for PPE globally and this took priority over other commodities such as eCommerce and garments. 

How does it feel to get things going again?

It has certainly been challenging over the past few years, but I’m very proud of the team in China. They showed great resilience, and that they can adapt quickly to new ways of working, as well as collaborate with colleagues globally to ensure we continue to deliver for our customers. It’s great that China has reopened the borders for both business and tourist traveller’s, and I’m looking forward to visiting again very soon!

What are the opportunities for IAG Cargo now that the region has reopened? 

From China, I am excited to see the continued growth of eCommerce and our direct service into London Heathrow is an excellent solution for these customers. Pre-2020 the team also did a lot of work to showcase our dedicated Pharmaceutical product, Constant Climate, and I’m looking forward to being able to display our capabilities in this vertical again.  

For the region, it’s great to see another two stations reintegrate into our network across Asia following the restarts of Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore. 

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