Chinese aviation bites, including three new airlines

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Sichuan Airlines
Sichuan Airlines

Sichuan Airlines to link Chengdu with Prague

Sichuan Airlines has revealed plans to launch the first direct flights between Chengdu and Prague. Scheduled to commence as early as February 2016, the Chinese airline will initially operate twice weekly services to the Czech capital, with the exact schedule being announced at a later date. Flights will be operated using a 298-seat, two-class Airbus A330 aircraft.

Sichuan Airlines will become only the second mainland Chinese carrier flying to Prague following Hainan Airlines, which launched thrice weekly flights to the city from Beijing in September 2015.

Air China commences Cuba flights

Air China launched its first flights to Cuba on 27 December. The new service marks an extension of the airline’s existing Beijing-Montreal route, which launched in September 2015. Flights will now continue onwards from the Canadian city to Cuba’s capital, Havana. The route will be operated three times a week (Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays) using a 313-seat Boeing 777-300ER aircraft.

Havana will become Air China’s 10th destination in the Americas, joining New York (JFK and Newark), Washington DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Vancouver, Montreal, Honolulu and Sao Paulo.

China United Airlines currently operates 25 Boeing 737s (photo from Boeing Co.)
China United Airlines

China United Airlines becomes LCC

China United Airlines, the Beijing-based carrier, has moved to a low-cost business model. The airline, which is a subsidiary of China Eastern, welcomed its first all-economy class aircraft late last month – a 186-seat Boeing 737. The new aircraft does come equipped with 18 premium economy seats, but still offers 16 more seats than its previous two-class B737s.

As part of its move to a low-cost model, China United is scrapping first and business class cabins and charging for seat selection, checked baggage, in-flight meals, ticket changes and other ancillary services.

New airline to launch in Shenyang

A new Chinese start-up airline will take to the skies later this year. Based in Shenyang, the capital of northeast China’s Liaoning province, Dongbei Airlines plans to launch services in October 2016. It will initially serve domestic routes using a fleet of three Airbus A320 aircraft, which will start being delivered in June. Initial destinations will include the major cities of Beijing and Shanghai. But Dongbei has significant expansion plans, with a targeted fleet size of 60 aircraft by 2020.

China Southern Airlines
China Southern Airlines

China Southern spreads wings in US with Virgin

China Southern Airlines has expanded its route map in the US following the signing of a new partnership with Virgin America. Under the agreement, China Southern will now be able to place its ‘CZ’ flight code on Virgin’s services from Los Angeles and San Francisco to Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, New York (Newark and JFK), Seattle, San Diego and Washington DC.

Guangzhou-based China Southern currently operates daily flights to San Francisco and 10 weekly flights to Los Angeles. Passengers on these flights will now be offered single-ticket travel to any of the codeshare destinations, transiting at LA or San Francisco.

Okay Airways debuts in Japan

Okay Airways launched its first ever flights to Japan late last month, and will continue its expansion in January. On 30 December, the Chinese airline started flying direct from its home base of Tianjin to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. These flights will now run twice a week, departing Tianjin every Wednesday and Saturday evening and returning from Tokyo the next morning.  And Okay Airways’ Japanese expansion will continue on 15 January with the start of flights from Tianjin to Osaka.


Sanya gets direct Bangkok connection

Travellers from Thailand are now able to fly direct to the Chinese beach resort of Sanya. Sichuan Airlines launched the service connecting Bangkok with Sanya on 30 December. Flights will now run three times a week, departing Suvarnabhumi Airport at 2200 every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This becomes Sichuan Airlines’ second service to Bangkok, following its existing flights from Chengdu. It also marks the first direct route between Bangkok and Sanya.

Kunming’s new airline prepares to launch

A new Chinese airline has welcomed its first aircraft and is preparing the launch flights from Kunming. Privately-owned Hongtu Airlines took delivery of a 220-seat Airbus A321 aircraft late last month and will operate domestic routes under the flight code ‘A6’. Initial destinations are expected to include Shenzhen and Chengdu.

Hongtu will become the sixth airline to be based in Kunming, the capital of southwest China’s Yunnan province, following China Eastern Airlines, Sichuan Airlines, Lucky Air, Kunming Airlines and Ruili Airlines.

Guangzhou's Baiyun International Airport
Guangzhou’s Baiyun International Airport

Guangzhou Airport auctions off slots

Guangzhou’s Baiyun International Airport auctioned off nine new pairs of domestic take-off and landing slots last week, in a move that raised CNY550 million (US$84.7m). The nine slot pairs auctioned were for times ranging from 10am to 9pm, and Xinjiang-based Urumqi Airlines obtained a new daily 2-3pm slot for US$90m.

The remaining slots went to Guizhou Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Xiamen Airlines and Zhuhai Airlines. All slots purchased will be valid for three years.  Baiyun Airport plans to auction a total of 98 new weekly slots in 2016.

Colorful Chinese airline takes flight

Colorful Guizhou Airlines, a start-up Chinese carrier, has launched its first flight. Based at Guiyang’s Longdongbao International Airport, the new airline operated its inaugural service to Bijie, another city in Guizhou province, on 31 December. Using a fleet of Embraer E190 jets, the carrier now plans to expand to destinations including Tianjin, Chengdu, Zhuhai, Xi’an, Fuzhou, Haikou and Ningbo from Guiyang.

Colorful Guizhou Airlines is also planning to launch international operations in future, and intends to build a fleet of 20 aircraft by 2020.

China Express Airlines' new CRJ900
China Express Airlines’ new CRJ900

China Express Airlines orders 10 more jets

China Express Airlines has moved to expand its operations, with the placement of an order for 10 new Bombardier aircraft. The airline, which is based in Guiyang and operates a base in Chongqing, has added 10 more CRJ900 regional jets to its existing order for 28 aircraft. To date, 20 of the CRJ900s ordered by China Express have been delivered. The value of the latest deal is US$462.6 million.

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