United flying high on smooth takeoff
United Airlines has its sights set on the dynamism of the HK and Chinese mainland markets, says the carrier’s Greater China and Korea chief. Emma Dai reports.
and Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan province and the gateway to Southwest China. The flight is the first-ever nonstop commercial operation to the US from a second-tier mainland city.
United decided to give the route a go because demand has been growing with the national “Go West” strategy, which aims to boost the development of the interior regions of China through investment in infrastructure and manufacturing, among other sectors. “It has become clear since the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15) and is probably going to be confirmed again in the 13th (Five-Year) Plan (2016-20) to be announced next year,” Dias said.
“Multinational corporations, mostly from the US, are investing in Chengdu,” he said. “Many of our corporate clients — such as Apple, Texas Instruments and Dell — have factories there. They are asking us about it. Looking at the local demographic and economy, we believe Chengdu would support the service.”
Fueling further hopes is the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, a wide-body aircraft that Dias described as “a game changer for aviation”. Able to fly nonstop as far as the Boeing 777, currently a mainstream model for long-haul routes, the Dreamliner is said to burn 30 percent less fuel and release 20 percent less carbon than its same-sized peer, the Boeing 767. It is also smaller with 200 to 260 seats, and thus “perfect for thinner markets like Chengdu”, compared with bigger models.
“We probably have the best order book for the 787 Dreamliner in the US,” Dias said. “Currently our fleet has 22 Dreamliners, the largest in North America, whereas we will have 65 in total when all the orders are delivered.”
Dias is very happy to see continued growth of revenue from Chengdu during the past year and a half. “In the peak season, load factor of the route has surpassed our Asia average, which ranges from 80 to 90 percent. Next summer, we plan to increase service frequency to daily. As market continues to grow, we hope to get daily service all year round in Chengdu.”
The success of the “Chengdu experiment” has encouraged the carrier to look into more emerging destinations in China. United announced in October its plan for nonstop flights between San Francisco and Xi’an — the capital city of Shaanxi province and home of the famed Terracotta Warriors.