Rapid development and upgrades to many of China’s provincial airports have prompted authorities to open so-called Tier 3 cities to long-haul carriers from Europe, the U.S., and Australia. The country’s Tier 3 airports for more than four decades have received service only from Chinese and regional airlines. Currently, the only exception—Zhengzhou in Henan Province—receives Air Canada flights from Vancouver and Jetstar service from Melbourne.
According to Ministry of Transport official Shi Yi, China’s continuous upgrades of aviation infrastructure will increase the number of airports with direct flights to destinations around the globe.
“The booming economy has expanded the middle-class segment, with more Chinese making long-haul trips,” said Shi.
Tier 3 cities identified for long-haul flights include Guilin, Jinan, Haikou, Zhengzhong, and Urumqi. Among the more than 70 Tier 3 cities across the country, authorities have targeted about 20 as potential destinations for long-haul carriers.
While China hopes to attract more long-haul foreign airlines to operate to its autonomous regions and other Tier 3 cities, Chinese airlines have also seized the opportunity; however, government restrictions limit nonstop flights to one carrier on any particular route.
“The market may not be big enough to allow more than one airline to operate on the route, and this is also to avoid competition,” Shi pointed out.
Air China-owned Tibet Airlines plans to introduce three-times-weekly flights on the Jinan-Helsinki route starting April 8 using Airbus A330-200s. Tianjin Airlines flies twice weekly between Zhengzhou and Sydney using the same type of equipment, as does Sichuan Airlines on its Zhengzhou-Vancouver route.