DALLAS – The Boeing 747 still remains an active and reliable machine to haul cargo given its large payload capacity and easy access to load freight through its nose cargo door.
Be it Cargolux (CV) or Airbridge (RU), it’s the sole backbone of their operations. Sometime in the middle of the last decade (2004), freight demand proved it necessary to bring in a new cargo carrier in Asia – China in particular and it happened. Jade Cargo (JI) came into existence and its first aircraft was a Boeing 747-400F with its home base at Shenzen, China.
Well, to kick things off, the carrier actually wanted to lease an Airbus freighter – potentially A300/310 but however, the Chinese authorities banned the use of leased aircraft by national airlines that were linked to a previous accident, and thus it brought in brand new Boeing 747-400 freighter.
Jade was distinct not just because it flew the jumbo but also for its sharp green nose. One couldn’t miss it. As a first, the inaugural route was to Amsterdam (AMS) and Seoul (ICN). In due time, the second Queen soon joined the ambitious freighter and the network grew to Barcelona (BCN) and Nagoya (NAG). It was one of the first Chinese-international joint-venture cargo airlines that did face hurdles in the beginning but eventually made it to the greens.
Jade was rather optimistic with an expectation of 15-20 % annual economic growth and was also one of the most successful cargo operators during that period. What was initially two jumbo jets turned into a fleet of six by 2008 to turn six.
During its golden age, it flew scheduled services to several Chinese cities, Japan, India, Vietnam, South Korea, and UAE in Asia plus ME; Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Germany, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, and Istanbul in Europe; and to several other global points as charter and seasonal.
Downfall too soon?
While surging demand brought the airline into existence, it was the very same reason to send it to the grave. Airfreight demand in Asia crashed to a severe low that Jade flew its last ever scheduled flight from Frankfurt (FRA) to Shanghai (PVG) in December 2011 and then officially grounded its fleet, citing a combination of lack of demand and “extended discussions” with shareholders.
“The temporary suspension of Jade Cargo services is due to overall weak air cargo demand,” a statement on the company’s website read then.
“It will also provide the shareholders with an opportunity to coordinate with stakeholders to continue with the restructuring of the company’s financial structure.”
Lufthansa (LH) kept a sharp eye on Jade and sensed things were going in the wrong direction. In 2011, Lufthansa Cargo lost around US$21m on its Jade stake and commenced considerations on the complete disposal of its holding after securing permission from Chinese authorities.
“We shall withdraw from loss-making units without a reasonable turnaround perspective,” then Lufthansa CEO Christoph Franz stated.
While there was one last hope for Jade to come back with Unitop’s interest to fund and restructure the airline, that failed too, as Untiop withdrew its LOI for restructuring Jade and that was the ultimate end for the Green Jumbojets. Jade had six 747-400Fs, of which three were sold soon after it filed for bankruptcy in 2013, leaving three freighters in China.
So where did the Green JumboJets Go?
The following three Boeing 747-400 JI freighters were auctioned at a starting price of 1.32bn yuan (US$207.2m).
- B-2422 (including 4 GE CF680C2B5F engines)
- B2423 (including 4 GE CF680C2B5F engines)
- B-2421 (including 3 GE CF680C2B5F engines)
CAL Cargo Airlines (5C) confirmed that it purchased an ex-Jade Boeing 747-400ERF through a Chinese online auction platform.
Offer Gilboa, the owner of 5C and Ace Aviation Services, commented, “I am very happy and proud that we have managed to win this bid. This aircraft is the youngest of its kind in the world with less than 15,000 hours.”
The remaining two jets went to SF Express (O3), yes, the black, white, and red-painted aircraft also from Shenzen. According to planespotters.net, of the other three, one went to 5C while the other two remained active at CV.