Paris-Vatry Airport, where air freight traffic has fallen dramatically since 2009, has been thrown a much-needed lifeline.

Chinese cargo airline Yangstze River Express, a subsidiary of Hainan Airlines, is planning a thrice-weekly B747 cargo service from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, in March.

Routed via Shanghai, the service is expected to generate between 20,000 and 25,000 tonnes of cargo a year, largely in the form of electronic goods destined for European markets.

This would be a massive boost for Paris-Vatry, where freight volumes totalled less than 10,000 tonnes last year.

At a recent ceremony in Chengdu saw the signing of an agreement between Deputy Governor of Sichuan Huang Xiaoxiang and a delegation representing Paris-Vatry, led by Jean-Paul Bachy, President of Champagne-Ardennes Regional Council, René-Paul Savary, President of Marne Council, which owns the airport, and Director of airport operating company SEVE, Gilles Darriau.

The agreement followed discussions over a period of 18 months, which also included negotiations to secure rights to fly over Russian territory.

The Chinese have already indicated that there could be scope to increase the service to five or six weekly frequencies.

The airport will now focus on attracting French and other European exporters to the west-east leg of the route, while generating interest among other Chinese provinces to the prospect of a new freighter link with France.

Paris-Vatry has been in the doldrums since 2009, when core customers DHL and cargo airline Avient left.

Their departure was the major factor in driving down annual cargo traffic that year to 22,394 tonnes, a fall of almost 45% on the record year of 2008.

This led to speculation that Paris-Vatry would fast become a “ghost” airport and a heavy burden on the public purse – Marne Council having invested €220 million in the airport over more than a decade.

This prompted calls from some quarters of the council that it be sold.

However, the airport’s backers will now be hoping the China deal will set Paris-Vatry firmly on the road to recovery, and allow it to finally emerge as a secondary cargo hub to Paris Roissy-CDG.

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