Air China continues to squeeze its domestic rivals

Air China Group.jpg“Air China is like a python – it will slowly squeeze the competition in China until it becomes the country’s biggest carrier,” an industry official told me last month. Two events over the last month point to that coming true.

Today, Air China announced that it was buying a majority stake in Shenzhen Airlines (after several twists and turns, with some senior Shenzhen officials arrested and others replaced by outsiders). This gives it a substantial presence in the Pearl River Delta area, traditionally the preserve of Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines.

Last month, Air China formalised its proposed cargo joint venture with Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific (another convoluted deal by any measure). This Shanghai-based cargo airline will turn the screws on China Eastern Airlines, whose board rebuffed Air China’s takeover bid two years ago. The rejection led to Air China starting a Shanghai-based passenger airline operation to compete with China Eastern.

Beijing-based Air China, say industry sources, is using its financial muscle and political connections to become China’s pre-eminent airline. It has a politically connected chairman and a young and capable CEO. It is determined to succeed.

China Eastern and China Southern will do well to watch out for their rival.

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