Chinese biggest carrier, China Southern Airlines (CZ) is one of the 13 operators of Airbus A380-800, the largest and the most expensive (average list price for 2015 is 428 million USD) passenger plane in the world. It has currently 5 of this giant machines in its fleet (delivered between 2011 and 2013), flying with them to four destinations from its main hubs in Guangzhou (CAN) and Beijing (PEK). Currently only one connection is domestic (PEK⇄CAN) and remaining three are Los Angeles (PEK⇄LAX), just recently launched Amsterdam (PEK⇄AMS) and seasonal route to Sydney (SYD). Using this long haul wide body aircrafts, inter alia on relatively short route makes no economic sense, increases the maintenance costs and significantly reduces residual value of the planes. Initially the list of domestic destinations where the superjumbo was flying was even longer. The plane was additionally used on routes to Hong Kong, Kunming and Shanghai which was maybe good for the brand image and recognition of the company in China but definitely not for the finances.
Before introduction of flights to Amsterdam (AMS), A380 in CZ fleet had daily utilization rate of 12 hours in the short peak season and only 8 hours for the rest of the year. There is a common belief in the industry, which states that only Emirates can make A380’s profitable. The rest of the industry is just trying to lose the least. I am not absolutely convinced it is true but it seems CZ for a long time haven’t got a clear idea how to turn its majestic beast into their key asset. Additionally I cannot help thinking Chinese decided to buy this plane mostly for political reason, willing to prove they are equally powerful as all the other World’s leading airlines. However, I have to admit that something is changing in the way they treat A380. Just recently they have inaugurated the connection between Beijing and Amsterdam and various rumors indicated that biggest Airbuses might start flying to New York (JFK) from CAN as well. The latter is however doubtful in opinion of the experts as A380 carries less cargo than Boeing 777-300ER which is currently used on that route. Pearl River Delta (where the Guangzhou is located) is often called the world’s manufacturing hub and the planes to USA are usually heavy laden with various goods. Moreover the bigger plane reduces the frequency which on the other hand is less appreciated by the customers.
Big airline and its enormous hubs
CZ is the biggest airline in Asia by fleet size (almost reached 500 planes), passengers carried (around 101 million in 2014), revenues (17,6 billion USD in 2014) and destinations (around 193). Furthermore it is world’s 3rd biggest airline by travellers transported. Those numbers show how huge and powerful is this company.
China Southern operates its A380’s from PEK and CAN. These are the 1st and the 2nd busiest airports in China by passengers carried and the perfect markets for such a big planes.
Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN) is slightly less know than China’s most famous airports in Beijing (Beijing Capital International Airport) and Shanghai (Pudong International Airport). It is a home base for CZ and its main hub. In 2014 it handled around 56 million passengers making it one of the top 15 airports in the world.
Guangzhou is a capital of Guangdong province being the 3rd largest city in China and 10th in the World. Combined population of Guangzhou and Foshan almost reaches 21 million inhabitants. I mentioned it on purpose, because in 2009 both cities authorities decided about their future merger. Guangzhou is one of five China’s National Central Cities which were identified to be the cultural and economic centers of regions they are located in. In Central Southern China though Guangzhou has to compete with rising star, Shenzhen and acclaimed power, Hong Kong. All those cities have very powerful economy and large impact on neighbouring regions. Canton (other name for Guangzhou) has very strong automotive sector, Shenzhen is known due to its technological companies and Hong Kong is still one of the financial capitals of the world. They are all relatively close to each other fighting for the best talents and dominance in the region. As I mentioned earlier Canton and Shenzhen are located in large manufacturing cluster called the “Pearl River Delta”. Guangzhou like nearly all China is very quickly improving its infrastructure. Till 2020 it will extend its metro lines total length by 300 kilometers to almost 500 kilometers. This leads us to Air Transport.
CAN airport was opened in 2004 and replaced 72 year old one, which served the city for many decades. New CAN enabled the airlines to operate 24 hours a day and significantly improve long range aircrafts utilisation. Additionally capacity has been vastly increased and due to constant investments is calculated to reach almost 80 million passengers per year in 2020. Now the airport has 3 active runways, two of them measuring 3800 meters and one 3600 meters as well as International and Domestic terminals. Thanks to its location and large FedEx base CAN is also an important cargo hub ready to ship Chinese goods to destinations around the world.
Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) is the biggest airport in China and I have posted its more detailed description in one of my earlier airport reviews. However what’s worth mentioning PEK is the 2nd busiest airport in the world. Beijing is of course a capital of China and one of the biggest cities in the world ( actual position depends on the method for defining boundaries of the city). In the “city proper” ranking is even on the 3rd place accounting 21,5 million inhabitants. It is known inter alia for its impressive historic monuments, cultural heritage and the Chinese version of famous Californian “Silicon Valley”, located in Zhongguancun district. Beijing is definitely one of the hottest air destinations in the world and I am not surprised CZ deploy its A380 there and use on the routes between PEK and CAN as well as PEK and AMS.
Beijing (PEK) to Amsterdam (AMS) route
Amsterdam is the capital of Netherlands and the economical and cultural center of the country, being definitely one of the most recognizable cities in the world.
CZ started to fly there with A380 just couple of days ago on 20th of June substituting Airbus A330-300 on this route. All China Southern A380 are configured in 3 class layout (8 first class, 70 business and 428 economy). I suppose they studied the market carefully and the decision to put biggest Airbus on that connection is not temporary. This will be a serious test for the airline route planners. A380 offers 40% more capacity than A333 on this connection. Last years almost 320 thousands passengers travelled from and to Beijing using Schiphol airport which was the solid 5 percent growth comparing to 2013 result. If CZ succeeds and correctly utilize its Superjumbo’s on that route, the growth will be even higher in 2015.
Amsterdam Schiphol Airport was 14th busiest airport in the world by passenger traffic and 17th by cargo traffic in 2014, directly competing with London (LHR), Frankfurt (FRA), Paris (CDG) and Madrid (MAD). The designers decided to choose one terminal concept. It is divided into three sections/halls, which are cut for smaller piers. In 2014 the airport has handled around 55 million passengers. The forthcoming expansion will increase the capacity of terminal to 65 million passengers till 2020. The master plan envisage the construction of additional piers and will cost around 500 million Euro. If the demand keeps rising the brand new (separate) terminal may be built as the plans are already prepared. Currently AMS has 5 active runways used by commercial airplanes which is a really impressive number. All A380 (apart from CZ only Emirates) are directed to Piers G in Hall 3 where double jetway gates are available and able to handle those big planes. The flight number CZ345 departs from PEK around 1AM each day and lands in AMS quarter past 5AM local time. The journey usually takes about 10 hours. A380 (CZ356) leaves Schiphol around 3PM and arrives in Beijing quarter past 6AM after around 9 hours of flying.
Guangzhou (CAN) to Los Angeles (LAX) route
I am quite sure all the readers know much about Los Angeles the second biggest city in the USA and famous kingdom of movie industry, sunny weather, beautiful beaches and iconic airport, Los Angeles International Airport. Most of people called it LAX which refers to its IATA airport code.
In 2014 it handles almost 71 million passengers. More info about this amazing hub I presented in one of my previous articles in Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles section. The flight numer CZ327 is scheduled to leave the gate at Guangzhou at half past 9PM and after a long 12:30 hour journey lands in LA around half past 7PM. Around midnight it takes off and returns to CAN before 6AM local time after 14 hours in the air.
Guangzhou (CAN) to Sydney (SYD) route (seasonal)
Among the almost 3 million international tourists which are visiting Sydney each year, the Chinese are the most numerous group. They are coming mainly in the peak season from the end of October till the end of March. This is exactly when CZ change the aircraft in one of its two daily flight to Sydney for Airbus A380. The flight number CZ325 leaves Guangzhou at 21:05 and reaches the gate of SYD airport at 08:25. The journey takes about 9 hours. On the way back flight CZ326 also last for around 9 hours departing at 10:05 and arrives at 17:50.
Sydney is the major center of Australian business and finance. The city has a lot to offer for the incoming tourists being a home for iconic structures like Sydney Opera House or Sydney Harbor Bridge. It has almost 5 million inhabitants, around 1.5 million of which were born overseas. Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport is the oldest commercial airport on our planet and the additionally the biggest in the whole Australia and Oceania. In 2014 it handled almost 39 million passengers.