Air China keen on growing in the Americas

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Star Alliance carrier Air China is hoping to leverage new alliance links in South America to grow its presence in the region, as well as boost flights to North America when its Boeing 787-9s arrive in 2015.

The carrier's vice-president and general manager for North American Zhihang Chi tells Flightglobal that there is "huge potential untapped" in South America. "We have keen interest in exploring South America," says Chi on the sidelines of the Boyd Group International Aviation Forecast Summit in Dallas.

Air China currently operates to Sao Paulo from Madrid, and Chi says the substantial Chinese population in other Latin American cities such as Lima make those destinations attractive for China's flag carrier.

However, he says that Air China has "no meaningful presence in South America" now and it would be better to work with a local partner there. Noting that Latin American airlines Avianca-Taca and Copa Airlines joined Star Alliance earlier this year, Chi says that would be the most feasible way to expand Air China's presence in the region.

"We have a relationship with Avianca, and we can review that relationship," he adds.

Air China had an agreement with Avianca to help connect traffic to Avianca's routes from New York's John F. Kennedy and Los Angeles airports, both of which are served by Air China.

However, Chi says that this agreement has ceased to be practical as Avianca has dropped its Los Angeles flights and adjusted its schedules at New York.

Aside from South America, Chi says there is the opportunity for new destinations in the USA, especially when the airline's new 787-9s join its fleet from the fourth quarter of 2015. Air China has orders for 15 aircraft.

Air China operates to San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York JFK from Beijing and Chi sees potential for boosting frequencies on these routes as well as adding new destinations.

"A daily flight to JFK is not enough, we need to fly double daily," he says. Launching flights to Chicago is also a possibility being studied, adds Chi, who notes that the airline has a strong partner in United Airlines, which is based in Chicago.

With the 787-9, Air China will be able to operate to secondary cities like Boston, Houston, Miami, Philadelphia and Toronto, he says. "These cities are not big enough for the 747 or the 777, and the 787 will be perfect."