Chinese carriers will operate 7,356 weekly international flights in summer 2015, a 39.2% increase from the previous corresponding period.

Figures from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) show that these services will cover 127 cities across 51 countries.

The figures give a good indication of the amount of attention Chinese carriers have been placing on international expansion. In the 2014 summer schedule, Chinese carriers operated 5,282 weekly flights.

CAAC says it is also planning to approve an additional 83 international routes, including services to Johannesburg, Tel Aviv and San Jose.

Fierce competition in the domestic market, coupled with the growing desire among locals to travel abroad, have led not just the big four carriers – Air China, China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines and Hainan Airlines – but also smaller operators to place their sights on high yield opportunities in the international market.

In the last six months alone, at least four domestic operators – West Air, China United Airlines, Tibet Airlines, China Eastern Airlines Jiangsu – have applied to the CAAC to expand their business scope beyond China.

Wide Horizons

Largely domestic, low-profile carriers such as West Air and Lucky Air tell Flightglobal that beyond planning international services, they are also looking at inducting widebody aircraft so that they can fly further from their hubs at tier 2 and tier 3 cities. This presents enormous opportunities for aircraft manufacturers who are no doubt pushing to sell more widebodies in China.

“These smaller airlines are shaping their own hub strategy in these tier 2 and tier 3 cities, mainly due to airport congestion at the traditional Chinese gateways and market dominance of the big four carriers,” says Michael Hui, aviation analyst at Flightglobal Ascend Consultancy.

“At the same time, these smaller airlines are also developing their domestic network to extend their connectivity in China, allowing them to feed international traffic through to their hubs.”

CAAC says that services to regional destinations are seeing the highest growth. Services on the China-Korea, China-Japan and China-ASEAN routes have grown at 56.8%, 46% and 44.2% respectively in the first quarter of 2015. Long-haul intercontinental routes have meanwhile grown between 10-20%.

North Asian routes strong

FlightMaps Analytics shows that the top three routes, in terms of seat capacity, between China and Korea are from Shanghai, Beijing and Qingdao to Seoul. The top routes to Japan are meanwhile from Shanghai to Tokyo and Osaka, and from Beijing to Tokyo.

China Eastern, China Southern and Air China are still the dominant operators on these routes.

These larger carriers are also planning more aggressive ventures to the US and Europe, and not just from the key cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Hainan Airlines has announced that it will launch services on the Chongqing-Rome route on 27 April. It also has plans for services from Beijing to San Jose and from Shanghai to Boston and Seattle.

On 30 June, Air China will launch a thrice weekly service on the Chengdu-Nanjing-Los Angeles route. The airline will also double its Shanghai-Vancouver frequency, and extend the route to Kumming.

Going forward, Hui says Chinese carriers need to manage their load factors and improve product delivery to compete. This includes improving on time performance and also the quality of inflight service. Moreover, they also need to better utilise traffic rights and lobby the government to be more open to bilaterial talks, he adds.

As China’s economy continues to grow at an enviable rate, we can be sure that the growth of international services will keep pace.

Source: Cirium Dashboard