New Chinese intercontinental airlines

Have you ever heard about Xiamen city in China? This beautiful town has around 3,5 million inhabitants and is considered rather mid-size among rapidly growing Chinese mega cities like Shanghai or Chongqing. It is one of the cleanest places in China and a popular tourist destination.

Xiamen_flickr_Jakob Montracio (CC BY 2.0)

Xiamen, source: Jakob Montrasio, Flickr, (CC BY 2.0)

People enjoy living there and admire the long offshore promenade next to sandy beach which offers a spectacular views for the sea and Taiwan Strait islands. Palm trees are growing next to the street and a evergreen grass is giving the impression of tranquility and calm. In these environment one of the most dynamic Chinese airlines is planning its long-haul expansion.

Xiamen Airlines Boeing 737-800_flickr_Aero Icarus_(CC BY-SA 2.0)

Xiamen Airlines Boeing 737-800, source: Aero Icarus, Flickr, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Xiamen Airlines (MF) is about to establish connections to Amsterdam and Sydney with its newest Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner planes. These aircrafts are the first widebodies in their fleet. Currently MF operates only two of them but additional four are on order and the airline may be forced to start more destinations, to make better use of their fleet in the future. It is interesting that MF decided to install 3 class layout (which includes first class) in these planes which is very uncommon in the industry. It is even more intriguing as Xiamen is just making its first steps in the long haul market. MF 787 has 237 seats among which 215 are in economy class.

Xiamen Airport_flickr_Kentaro IEMOTO_(CC BY-SA 2.0)

Xiamen Airport, source: Kentaro IEMOTO, Flickr, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Xiamen Gaoxi International Airport (XMN) is a home for Xiamen Airlines and the biggest airport in Fujian province. In 2014 it handled around 22,4 million passengers and improved its 2013 result by 13 percent. XMN at the moment uses 2 terminals named Terminal 3 and just completed Terminal 4. T4 is capable of handling up to 12 million passengers and will significantly extend throughput of the airport. Xiamen Airport has only one runway and this could be a bottle neck in the rapid expansion process. In the short-term second airstrip should be built to avoid future growth limitations. In 2013 XMN was the 11th biggest airport in China by passenger traffic and in according to my research it is very likely it will maintain this place also in 2014.

Xiamen Airlines (excluding XMN) has two other hub located in Fuzhou and Hangzhou. Fuzhou Changle International Airport (FOC) located also in Fujian province handled almost 9 million passengers in 2013 and Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport (HGH) slightly more then 25 million in 2014. Right now only KLM offers transcontinental flight to Xiamen. With its Boeing 777-200 connects the capital of Netherlands with Xiamen twice a week. Both Xiamen Airlines and KLM are members of Skyteam alliance and will arguably cooperate on this route as Xiamen will begin scheduled flights to Amsterdam most likely from July 2015. End of 2015 will be the most probable date of commencing the service to Sydney. Once those two routes are open Xiamen Airlines will become 6th Chinese airline which flies to Europe (after Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, Hainan Airlines and Sichuan Airlines) and 5th flying to Australia (after Air China, China Eastern, China Southern and Sichuan Airlines).

Sichuan Airlines A330_flickr_Flox Papa_(CC BY-ND 2.0)

Sichuan Airlines A330, source: Flox Papa, Flickr, (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Sichuan Airlines (3U) has started flying on transcontinental routes just in 2012, commencing connection between its home base in Chengdu and Vancouver in Canada. Currently the airline has its hubs in 3 different provinces. I mentioned Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport (CTU) situated in Sichuan. Other two bases are located in Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport (CKG), positioned in land cut out from Sichuan and directly controlled by Chinese government and Kunming Changshui International Airport (KMG) located in Junnan province.

Cheng Du panda reserve_flickr_Dailuo_(CC BY 2.0)

Chengdu panda reserve, source: Dai Luo, Flickr, (CC BY 2.0)

Chengdu is a capital of Sichuan province and a home for over 14 million people. It is a rapidly growing city which is however scarifying its rich cultural heritage for further expansion and destroying old districts to prepare place for the new ones. It is also known for Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding an organization which takes care of those extremely rare animals and increase their population. Panda has been living in Sichuan mountains since ancient times and the whole venture is run by government to protect this dying out specie. Sichuan Airlines frequent flyer program is called Golden Panda also to commemorate this amazing animals.

Chengdu is quite well connected to the world. There are 3 European destinations which are being served from there. London Heathrow (LHR) route is being operated by British Airways with 787-8 plane 3 times per week. Frankfurt Airport (FRA) is being served by Air China (CA) with Airbus A330 also 3 times weekly. KLM is flying to CTU on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays with Boeing 747 planes. Passengers from Middle East may reach CTU with Etihad Airways (EY) from Abu Dhabi (AUH) and Qatar Airways (QR) from Doha (DOH). Both EY and QR operate A330-200 on this destinations. United flies its 787 three times per week between Chengdu and San Francisco (SFO).

Chengdu Airport_flickr_Mighty Travels_(CC BY 2.0)

Chengdu Airport, source: Mighty Travels, Flickr, (CC BY 2.0)

Sichuan Airlines is using CTU as its main gateway to the world. It currently flies to Melbourne (MEL) in Australia, Male (MLE) on Maldives and as I mentioned earlier also to Vancouver (YVR). 3U also operates Sydney (SYD) long haul destination from Chongqing airport. Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport is the main rival for Chengdu Airport in West China and handled around 30 million passengers in 2014. It is one of the biggest cities in the world which municipal population accounts almost 29 million people. It is additionally one of six (including Hong Kong) National Central Cities, the leading agglomerations in China with special rights and roles.

In May 2015 Sichuan Airlines is about to open a new route to Moscow Sheremetyevo International Airpot (SVO) enriching Chengdu passengers choice of transcontinental flights. It will be operated by Airbus A330 plane. 3U has 7 A330 aircrafts in its fleet (4 A330-200 and 3 A330-300) and use it on all long haul flights. Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport handled 37,5 million passengers in 2014 and was the 5th largest Chinese airport. It has two runways and two terminals named T1 and T2. Terminal 2 is the bigger one and was opened in 2012 increasing the capacity of the airport up to 45-50 million passengers per year. Despite sufficient capacity surplus the local authorities have just accepted building 11,2 billion dollars new airport for additional 40 million passengers. It will be fully operational around 2025 and will enable dynamic expansion of aviation in Chengdu in forthcoming years.

Aviation in China is booming and both the airlines and airports growing in spectacular pace. Two new Chinese airlines Xiamen and Sichuan are making their way into Europe and other continents and it isn’t surely their last word.

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