Fast lane

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By ZHAO LEI zhaolei@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Medium- and long-dis­tance high-speed rail­way will com­pete with air­lines dur­ing the com­ing Spring Fes­ti­val travel peak.

Chi­nese air­lines should change their strate­gies and im­prove ser­vices to sur­vive the com­pe­ti­tion brought by the rapid ex­pan­sion of the high-speed rail­way net­work, ex­perts said.

“Air­lines should not re­gard the com­pe­ti­tion be­tween them and high-speed train ser­vices as a zero-sum game,” said Wang Ya’nan, deputy ed­i­tor-in-chief at Aero­space Knowl­edge mag­a­zine.

“How­ever, they can use this op­por­tu­nity to arouse their em­ploy­ees’ sense of cri­sis, to stream­line some com­pli­cated pro­ce­dures that hin­der op­er­a­tion and to boost ef­fi­ciency,” he said.

On Satur­day, China Rail­way Corp, the na­tional rail­way op­er­a­tor, said that seven high-speed lines were put into ser­vice, and the to­tal length of Chi­nese rail lines now ex­ceeds 100,000 kilo­me­ters, in­clud­ing more than 10,000 km of high­speed lines.

The un­prece­dented fast growth of the rail net­work will cut into air­lines’ busi­ness, es­pe­cially on flights shorter than 1,000 km, ex­perts said.

“Sur­veys show that at least 30 per­cent of reg­u­lar pas­sen­gers of air­lines will be at­tracted to rail­ways once a high-speed line is opened,” said Li Xiaojin, a pro­fes­sor at the Civil Avi­a­tion Univer­sity of China.

“Each time China Rail­way Corp ac­cel­er­ates a line’s speed, air­lines have to ac­cord­ingly in­crease their dis­counts to main­tain pas­sen­gers,” he said.

As for the newly opened lines, some in­dus­try in­sid­ers have pre­dicted that Xi­a­men Air­lines will be hit hard, as one of the newly opened lines links Shen­zhen, Guang­dong prov­ince, and Xi­a­men, Fujian prov­ince, ac­cord­ing to China Busi­ness News.

In the past, trains from Shen­zhen and Guangzhou to Xi­a­men, a fa­mous tourist desti­na­tion in the coun­try, took 15 hours. Trav­el­ing by bus took nine to 10 hours. As a re­sult, many peo­ple trav­eled by air, which takes only an hour. Dis­counts on air tick­ets were rare.

How­ever, the new high­speed rail ser­vice be­tween Shen­zhen and Xi­a­men, which takes only three hours, will at­tract many pas­sen­gers, said Meng Yu, deputy sec­re­tary gen­eral of Xi­a­men Con­tainer Trans­porta­tion As­so­ci­a­tion and a lo­cal trans­port ex­pert.

He fore­cast that air tick­ets be­tween Xi­a­men and cities in Guang­dong prov­ince will be dis­counted by up to 70 per­cent, af­fect­ing the car­rier’s prof­its.

The open­ing of another high-speed rail­way in Septem­ber caused air ticket prices be­tween Xi­a­men and Wuhan to drop by 80 per­cent, he said.

A re­port by Guangzhou Baiyun In­ter­na­tional Air­port last year also pre­dicted that the air pas­sen­ger vol­ume be­tween Guangzhou and Xi­a­men will drop 30 per­cent fol­low­ing the open­ing of the new high­speed rail­way.

“Ev­ery­one in this busi­ness is closely watch­ing rail­way de­vel­op­ment,” said a pub­lic­ity man­ager with a Bei­jing­based car­rier, who re­fused to be iden­ti­fied.

Air­lines must ad­just their routes and op­er­a­tion strate­gies to meet the chal­lenges of com­pe­ti­tion from high-speed rail, she said, adding that air­lines that fo­cus on the do­mes­tic mar­ket and have many short­haul flights will be the first to be af­fected by the bul­let trains.

But for higher-level trans­port of­fi­cials, the ex­pan­sion of high-speed rail­ways is not nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing.

Li Ji­ax­i­ang, head of Civil Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion of China, said that the rail sec­tor’s pros­per­ity does not con­tra­dict air­lines’ in­ter­ests.

“The civil avi­a­tion in­dus­try has con­sis­tently wit­nessed high de­mand for its ser­vices but has failed to fully meet pas­sen­gers’ needs. High­speed rail lines help al­le­vi­ate air­lines’ pres­sures and some­times in­ject new mo­men­tum to their de­vel­op­ment,” Li said.

Yang Chuan­tang, min­is­ter of trans­port, also said ear­lier this month that the ex­panded rail­ways net­work in­creases the coun­try’s ca­pac­ity to trans­port pas­sen­gers dur­ing the 40-day Spring Fes­ti­val travel peak, which starts on Jan 16.

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