China’s ‘Big Three’ Get Set To Do Battle at Daxing International

 - May 9, 2019, 11:56 AM
Air China has taken delivery of eight Airbus A350-900s out of an order for 10. (Photo: Airbus)

Competition among China’s big three state-owned airlines—China Southern, China Eastern, and Air China—appears set to further intensify with the September launch of Beijing’s highly anticipated Daxing International Airport. According to the Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC), China Southern will take the largest share of traffic after the agency granted it 40 percent of Daxing’s air traffic resources. China Eastern saw its share drop from 40 percent to 30 percent after it opted to maintain its Beijing to Shanghai route from Beijing Capital International Airport; its 10 percent share will go to Air China and its subsidiaries.

The latest announcement is a marked departure from CAAC’s previous plan, which called for Star Alliance airlines Air China, United Airlines, and Air Canada to remain at Capital International. Chinese regulators had previously stated it would not allow domestic carriers to operate at both airports concurrently.

Under the new agreement, Air China will gain a foothold at both Beijing airports as it looks to add new routes and increase the frequency of flights across its network. The flag carrier also will benefit from China’s easing of its "one route, one airline" policy, after receiving approvals from regulators in April to launch new flights between Shanghai and London. Air China will compete against China Eastern on the route, putting an end to a decades-old rule of allowing only one Chinese operator on each long-haul flight.

The opening of Daxing also appears likely to boost China Eastern and China Southern, which have largely operated from their respective bases, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Both carriers harbor ambitious plans to eventually base a fleet of 200 aircraft at the new mega-hub as they pursue rapid international expansion and compete against Air China on lucrative routes to and from Beijing.

Plans call for China Southern to open a Beijing-London direct route from Daxing, with seven round-trip flights per week. China Eastern will keep Beijing Capital as an auxiliary hub and use Daxing to expand to Paris and London as well to international destinations participating in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Over the long-term, the Chinese carrier wants to develop an extensive air network connecting all major BRI countries from Beijing’s new airport, its existing Shanghai hub, Xi’an Xianyang International Airport in Shaanxi province, and Kunming Changshui International Airport in Yunnan province.

Meanwhile, all three airlines are preparing to participate in an hour-long flight test at Daxing International on May 13; A fourth airline, Xiamen Airlines, will also take part, using a Boeing 787. Plans call for the airplanes to take off from Runways 01L/19R, 17R/35L, and 17L/35R. The new airport’s four runways and taxiways passed inspection on April 28 to 30, ahead of its planned opening in September.