Aviation: More US flights added as demand continues to soar
carriers no longer dominate the Sino-US market.
But then, air traffic across the Pacific is entering a huge growth period after a new visa policy was brought in. Expanding trade between China and the US has also helped boost the industry.
At the end of last year, theUS government started handing out 10-year visas to Chinese nationals. The visa application process has also been simplified and this has stimulated airline growth.
Statistics from the US Embassy in China showed that 1.84 million non-immigrant visas were issued in 2014, com- pared to 1.5 million in 2013. This year the number is expected to exceed 2.5 million.
The Chinese government has also encouraged the country’s airlines to expand international markets.
“We received support from the authorities over the years and that makes it easier to openinternational routes,” said a marketing manager, who refused to be named, from a domestic carrier, which runs several routes between China and theUS.
Air China has the largest market share among Chinese carriers in the international sector and is the country’s biggest player in the Sino-US market. It has six destinations in the US, but its capacity is less than United Airlines Inc, the majorUS carrier.
Even so, Air China branched out in the US last year, with new destinations to Hawaii and Houston. The flag carrier also increased flights between Beijing and Los Angeles to 21 a week.
This year, the airline will operate 2,576 flights to the US compared to 2,300 in 2014, the Center for Aviation said.
Rivals such as China Southern Airlines have also made inroads into theUS sector. China Southern is the only local carrier which operates the 506seater Airbus 380 passenger jet. The super jumbo has been used on the Guangzhou-Los Angeles route since 2012.
In 2014, China Southern opened two routes to the US, including Guangzhou to New York and San Francisco via Wuhan. The carrier is planning to open direct flights between Guangzhou and San Francisco. It is also planning to increase flights to other US destinations.
China Eastern Airlines, which runs four routes to the US, expects to expand after adding 20 Boeing 777-300ER aircraft to its fleet last year.
“Most of the new aircraft will be used on the Pacific routes,” said Luo Anping, media manager from China Eastern Airlines’ public relationships department.
Hainan Airlines, which is the smallest and youngest player among the main Chinese carriers, has three routes to the US. But it will open three more in June, including the Beijing to San Jose, Shanghai to Boston and Shanghai to San Francisco routes.
The airline has a fleet of 10 Boeing 787-8 for the North America market, but plans to expand after ordering 30 Boeing 787-9 passenger jets in March. The new aircraft will be used on North American routes.
“Hainan Airlines’ long-term plan is to fly to eight destinations in North America,” said Wang Yingming, executive vice-president of HNA Group, parent company Airlines.
The market share for Chinese airlines in the Sino-US market will continue to increase in the future.
“The international market, especially theUS routes, is blue oceanforChinese airlines,” said Li Xiaojin, professor of economic management research at the Tianjin-based Civil AviationUniversity of China.
As China’s economic growth slows, domestic routes are likely to stagnate, according to Li. But there is growth potential in the international sector.
Last year, the number of Chinese outbound travelers was about 109 million. This year that figure is expected to
Hainan rise to 120 million, the China National Tourism Administration has forecasted.
But US airlines are fighting hard to retain their market share. American Airlines Inc, the world’s largest carrier by fleet size, started a daily route fromBeijing to DallasonMay8.
It also plans to openupother destinations, according to Erwan Perhirin, Asia-Pacific vice-president of the American Airlines, as well as increasing flights between Chengdu and San Francisco from June 6. “The entire market is still growing, sowe are as well.” Contact the writer at wangwen@ chinadaily.com.cn