ANALYSIS: Chengdu international market largely undeveloped

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China's western metropolis of Chengdu is shaping up as an important western hub, with domestic and foreign carriers rapidly increasing capacity to the city.

The decision of United Airlines to launch a San Francisco-Chengdu route with its Boeing 787 aircraft in mid-2014 will see Chengdu return to the elite list of Chinese cities with a direct connection to North America. Given the rapid growth of domestic and regional traffic in Chengdu in recent years, it is likely that other big players will try to enter this market.

According to Flightglobal's Capstats database, total monthly capacity from Chengdu has more than doubled since 2005, the first year for which Capstats data is available. In August 2005, airlines provided a total capacity of 955,000 seats from Chengdu. By August 2013 this had grown to 1.8 million seats.

According to FlightMaps Analytics, Air China, Sichuan Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, and China Southern Airlines are the dominant players on routes out of the city. Air China alone accounted for almost 34% of outbound traffic in August 2013, providing capacity of 601,000 seats.

Top five carriers in outbound capacity for Chengdu

FlightMaps Analytics

Predictably, the biggest domestic destinations served from Chengdu are the dominant coastal cities of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. In August 2013, airlines provided 206,000 seats on the Chengdu-Beijing route, according to Capstats, followed by Shanghai with 127,000 seats, Guangzhou with 110,000 seats, and Shenzhen with 84,000 seats.

FlightMaps also indicates that Chengdu is largely a domestic market, with about 93% of capacity from the city deployed on domestic routes.

Top cities served from Chengdu

FlightMaps Analytics

Genuine long-haul international routes are at an early stage of development. Sichuan Airlines operates 11 flights a month to Melbourne with Airbus A330 aircraft and Air China operates 13 services a month to Frankfurt, also with A330s. In addition, KLM offers direct service to Amesterdam with 747 combi aircraft, and Etihad offers direct A330 service to Abu Dhabi.

On 22 September, British Airways will start services from London Heathrow with 777s, and Qatar has launched thrice-weekly services to Chengdu using Airbus A330s.

Key regional cities such as Tokyo, Seoul, Mumbai, Singapore, and Bangkok are also served.

Network capacity outbound from Chengdu

FlightMaps Analytics