Chinese Airlines Ready To Rebuild Asia-Pacific Networks

 - January 26, 2023, 9:34 AM
Using an Airbus A350-900, China Southern Airlines plans to operate daily flights from Guangzhou to Sydney beginning January 30. (Photo: Airbus)

Buoyed by Lunar New Year demand and the end to China’s Zero-Covid policy, Chinese airlines are looking to fill air service gaps in the Asia-Pacific region with entry into key markets for the remainder of January and the coming weeks.

Despite pre-departure testing requirements for Chinese travelers, Australian airports are bracing for the return of its largest inbound market as China’s big three, starting with China Eastern Airlines, rebuild their Oceania networks. Under fully owned subsidiary Shanghai Airlines, the carrier resumed service to Melbourne on Tuesday, operating a Boeing 787-9; plans call for the airline to start daily Airbus A350 flights from Shanghai to Sydney in early February.

Following Wednesday’s relaunch of Dreamliner service from Guangzhou to Melbourne, China Southern Airlines will jump to ten weekly flights starting in March. Using an A350-900, the carrier will resume daily service between Guangzhou and Sydney beginning January 30 before increasing frequencies to 10 weekly flights in March.

The first week of February will also see Air China operate three-times-weekly A330 flights and Boeing 777 service between Beijing and Melbourne and Beijing to Sydney, respectively. Meanwhile, private carrier Xiamen Air will increase Dreamliner service from Xiamen to Sydney four times per week from January 29, followed by a resumption of twice-weekly service between Fuzhou and Sydney next week.

Melbourne’s international gateway will also see the return of Sichuan Airlines with flights from Chengdu, while Beijing Capital Airlines restarts service from Qingdao. “By March, we’re hopeful of being at almost 50 percent of pre-pandemic capacity from mainland China,” said the airport’s chief of aviation, Jim Parashos, in a Tuesday statement. Australian flag carrier Qantas Airways have yet to announce planned routes to China.

Neighbor New Zealand made the decision in early January to not impose testing requirements on Chinese travelers; now it looks to increase frequency after both sides maintained limited service throughout the pandemic. On Thursday, China Southern boosted frequency from twice-weekly flights on Auckland-Guangzhou to four-times-weekly and plans to transition to daily service starting March 27. Air New Zealand will increase Dreamliner flights between Auckland and Shanghai from three a week to four starting February 4. Auckland Airport also announced on Wednesday that it will carry out $58 million in upgrades this year, building a new road, parking facility, and a T3 terminal-bound bus lane to improve public access.

Following the resumption of regular daily flights between Manila and Xiamen in mid-January, Xiamen Air said Wednesday it will further expand operations to the Philippines, relaunching service from Quanzhou to Manila in mid-to-late February, adding capacity from Xiamen in March, and restarting summer service to Cebu and Kalibo from May 1. Philippine low-cost carrier Cebu Pacific will operate to Xiamen in February and expand capacity to Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenzhen while laying plans to restore all domestic and international operations to pre-pandemic levels in March. Flag carrier Philippine Airlines reopened flights from Manila to Guangzhou and Xiamen in mid-January.

Thailand also rolled out the proverbial welcome mat to Chinese travelers over the Lunar New Year amid a “China is Back” tourism board campaign. According to China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Thailand is among 20 countries that will see a relaunch of Chinese tour groups from February 6th. The remaining 19 include Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore along with Argentina, Cuba, Egypt, Fiji, Hungary, Kenya, Maldives, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Following Beijing Capital Airline’s return to the Maldives last week, China Eastern will follow suit, flying to Velana International Airport once a week from January 28 to March 25 with an A330-200. Beginning February 11, Nepal-China joint venture Himalayan Airlines will add capacity, launching weekly Kathmandu-Beijing flights every Saturday.