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joint ventures that would let carriers from both sides coordinate
networks and pricing, meaning more convenient scheduling for
passengers, CAPA says.
Alliances are already showing: China Eastern is close to Delta,
CAPA says, while China Southern has a “young partnership” with
American Airlines. United and Air China customers can earn and
redeem miles on each other ’s flights.
“ What will spur the most flying between China and the US will be
reaching an open skies agreement, which would allow almost com-
pletely unfettered access between the two countries,” says Richard
Harteveldt, president and travel industry analyst with the advisory
firm Atmosphere Research Group in San Francisco. “ While an airline
would need to secure take-off and landing slots at some Chinese
airports, open skies reduces the government approval process for
new routes to a rubber-stamp type of routine review and approval.”
Open skies negotiations have failed to date because the US side
does not believe its airlines could get slots for new services in China,
meaning additional traffic rights spelled out in any deal would go
to waste, CAPA says.
Airlines flying nonstop to China from the United States may feel
daunted also by lack of connecting flight networks in second-tier
Chinese cities, where slots are generally easier to get than in Bei-
jing and Shanghai. That means a deplaning passenger would need
to wait longer, or take two flights rather than one, to reach a final
destination after first deplaning in China.
In the United States, airports that receive passengers from China
often support a battery of domestic flights to other parts of the
country. In San Francisco, for example, United can get people on
289 daily flights to 80 other US airports. Los Angeles and New York
City’s major airports can quickly fan international passengers out
to much of the United States, as well.
China also grapples with congestion because of fast growth in do-
mestic flights fuelled by an explosion in the number of middle-class
travellers and airspace usage conflicting with the People’s Liberation
Army air force, which takes priority. “Underlying slot constraints is
the issue of challenges with Chinese airspace,” the CAPA report says,
estimating that only 20 percent of total space is open to civilian use.
“ What is available is often not managed efficiently — sometimes
because of sensitivities and restrictions, and sometimes because
of technology and processes.”
Continuing real demand for China-US flights
As United’s projection for its Newark-Pudong plan suggests, fli-
ers demand more routes between China and the United States.
Business between the two counties keeps raging despite the trade
dispute of 2018, while the draws of tourism and higher education
in the United States keep Chinese passengers buying tickets.
Chinese passengers will take 4 billion trips worldwide in 2040 per
projections from the Airport Council International. They will make
up 19 percent of the world market, followed by American fliers
with 15 percent.
Existing flights, especially in the mid-year travel months and
the Lunar New Year holiday that comes six months later, generally
fill all their seats. About 250 weekly flights operate today on 40
Sino-US routes. Ten more nonstop routes are expected to come
online over the next two years, says Mike Boyd, president of the
aviation consulting firm Boyd Group International. The most likely
airports are in Chinese provincial capitals such as Changsha,
Chengdu, Nanjing, and Wuhan, Boyd says.
The Chinese carrier Xiamen Airlines launched nonstop flights two
years ago between Fuzhou, capital of a well-off part southeastern
Chinese province, to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New
York. Before then, fewer than 3,500 passengers had travelled directly
between the two cities, Boyd says. In the first year of the nonstops,
Xiamen Airlines carried more than 75,000 passengers. Boyd calls the
case “an indication of the potential revenue that is lurking”.
Since 2017, China’s privately-owned Hainan Airlines has tested
unusual routes by flying between Los Angeles and three inland
Chinese cities. One city, Chongqing, is a heavy industry magnet and
the other, Xi’an, a tourist draw. The Xi’an route effectively replaced
one scrapped by United.
“I’ve learned you never say ‘never ’ when it comes to new routes,”
Harteveldt says. “If a major account makes a compelling business
case for a new route, or an airline determines that there is either a
competitive necessity or opportunity to start a new US-China route,
or there is a meaningful volume of unmet profitable demand, then
we’ll see airlines open new routes.”
Better odds if trade dispute eases
If the present ceasefire in a year-old Sino-US trade dispute leads
to a major import-export deal as some forecast, the ensuing bump
in trade could stoke demand for flights, says Alicia Garcia Herrero,
Asia-Pacific chief economist with the French investment bank Natix-
is. “ This means new air routes for more tourists and more airplanes
for Boeing,” she says.
A continued trade dispute, including more increases on im-
port tariffs like those of last year, would chill the kind of environ-
ment that would let civil aviation authorities sit down to discuss
new routes, aviation analysts fear. “I’ll peg the likelihood of new
US-China routes being announced and launched as low in the
current trade environment,” Harteveldt says. “If we see a warming
of US-China trade relations, though, I believe we’ll see more new
Even without a deal, education and residency will encourage
new routes, Garcia adds. Chinese nationals covet US university
degree programmes, while increasing numbers of people from
one side are living long term on the other to work, do business or
be near family “I think education ties are very important as well
as the issuance of resident visas and the like,” she says. “In other
words, expect people-to-people connectivity to drive the routes
more than business ties specifically. Do not expect a reduction in
routes, but rather the opposite.”
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