From Sweet to Sour

The Menzies joint venture in Chengdu faces an uncertain future.


The joint venture presently handles eight local carriers and five non-domestic. Their competitor in ground handling is another consortium, which includes the national carrier Air China. Chengdu-based Sichuan Airlines attend to their own fleet of 40 aircraft.

The western influence from Menzies brought about an unusual effect to other aviation companies at the airport. Hu Guanqiang, cargo manager at Sichuan Airlines, says, “All our staff are now coming to work in uniform, before that they wore their own ordinary clothes. It seems that we want to copy their professional style.”

The earthquake in May 2008, which shattered towns and villages only 100 miles away, was a supreme test of the venture’s management ability. Swinging immediately into a 24/7 operation, the partnership handled more than 80 freighters with aid and relief cargoes, and in one memorable day the inward tonnage handled exceeded 4000 tons, far above their daily average of 200.

Full cargo aircraft are not a usual sight at Shangliu. Adrian Davies, director of the UK Department of International Development, commented after seeing the unloading of thousands of tents out of Emirates 747s from Dubai and Karachi, “My impression was of a very competent and effective organization.”

Now the biting economic squeeze is on worldwide. Aviation ground handling companies in central China are not exempt from this turbulent struggle to survive.

Due to the increase in value of the yuan, export-orientated factories are laying off staff, and one freight terminal reports a drop in domestic traffic of more than 30 percent.

KLM Cargo Manager Joe Ji goes higher with a 40-percent drop on all Europe-bound cargo.

Local and international passenger figures given out by the CAA have slid down by 13 percent in the second half of 2008.

Grouped together with the earthquake, falling export cargo and the global financial meltdown, the aviation business in Sichuan has lost its spice and flavor.

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