Chengdu rises to #5 in Mainland China as Etihad arrives

In spite of being Mainland China’s fifth-largest airport, Chengdu only has one intercontinental service on KLM. As of last month, Etihad exploits this underserved long-haul market, having launched flights to the home of the Great Panda from its Abu Dhabi hub.

As Chinese communities across world currently celebrate the Lunar New Year, air travel booms in an already expansive region. Meanwhile, Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport has climbed to fifth place in the rankings of Mainland China’s largest airports by passenger throughput for the last year, falling behind only Beijing, Guangzhou and the two Shanghai airports; but now also ranking ahead of Shenzhen.

Chengdu Airport traffic 2000-2011 Annual passengers (millions)

Source: CAAC

The airport, which serves the capital of Sichuan Province in Southwest China – known as the home of the Giant Panda, last year served over 29 million passengers. The only fall in passenger traffic occurred in 2008, when an earthquake hit the city and its surrounding area. The only other year in the last 12 years that growth was lower than double-digit was in 2003 when SARS affected travel demand in the region. However, the year after – 2004 – growth was record-high; +43%. Also in 2009, after the earthquake, the market showed itself able to bounce back and grew by 31%.

Domestic dominance, but Etihad taps growing international market

Chengdu's top 12 destinations Weekly one-way seat capacity

Source: OAG Schedules iNET for w/c 23 January 2012

93% of seat capacity offered out of Chengdu is on flights within Mainland China and the airport’s top routes are all domestic. The busy Beijing route, which is served with over 36,000 weekly one-way seats (which translates to over 5,000 seats a day or nearly 1.9 million seats annually), has five airlines competing, but almost 85% of capacity is offered by only Air China and Sichuan Airlines.

Notable airports among Chengdu’s top domestic destinations are Lhasa in Tibet and Ürümqi in Xinjiang. Due to its geographical location in the west of China, Chengdu has for long functioned as a gateway to Tibet and the Western Regions.

Hong Kong is the biggest ‘international’ market at 6,100 weekly one-way seats. It is followed by Thailand and Taiwan in second and third place respectively. The only intercontinental route to Chengdu is KLM’s twice-weekly service from Amsterdam, which has operated since 2006. Etihad, which began serving Chengdu four times weekly from its Abu Dhabi hub as recently as last month, also wishes to tap European passenger flows, alongside traffic to and from the Middle East and Africa.

Air China bigger than local carrier Sichuan Airlines

Two passengers pose for Sichuan Airlines Inaugural flight from Chengdu to Ho Chi Ming City.

Although the national carrier Air China is the largest airline in Chengdu, locally based Sichuan Airlines is a clear second in the market. Last September, the airline launched flights to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, operating via Nanning.

Top 10 airlines Capacity share
Air China 29.3%
Sichuan Airlines 23.9%
China Eastern 10.6%
China Southern 9.6%
Xiamen Airlines 4.9%
Chengdu Airlines 3.9%
Shenzhen Airlines 3.0%
Hainan Airlines 2.9%
Tibet Airlines 1.7%
Shanghai Airlines 1.3%
Source: OAG Schedules iNET for w/c 23 January 2012

Air China and locally based Sichuan Airlines dominate traffic in Chengdu. Other than the major, national carriers, the smaller local airline Chengdu Airlines is notably the airport’s sixth-largest and Tibet Airlines, which only launched operations last year, already ranks #9 thanks to operating scissor-hub-like operations in Chengdu.

According to’s database of new routes, Chengdu has seen 17 new routes launch in the last year. However, while we take pride in the quality of our database, there may be gaps in particular in the Chinese domestic market, making the following list incomplete. At present, we have no record of any further routes having been announced.

Date Airline Destination WF A/c
28-Mar-11 EVA Airways Taipei Taoyuan (TPE) 2 A332
10-May-11 Shandong Airlines Xiamen (XMN; via Guilin/KWL) 4 B738
16-Jun-11 Air China Tokyo Narita (NRT) 3 A319
19-Jun-11 ANA Tokyo Narita (NRT) 7 B73G
10-Jul-11 Zest Air Kalibo (KLO) 0.7 A320
19-Jul-11 Air China Korla (KRL) 3 A319
01-Aug-11 Hong Kong Express Hong Kong (HKG) 7 B738
06-Sep-11 Tibet Airlines Xining (XNN) 2 A319
11-Sep-11 Tibet Airlines Hangzhou (HGH) 7 A319
15-Sep-11 Air China Ningbo (NGB) 3 A319
15-Sep-11 Sichuan Airlines Ho Chi Minh City (SGN; viaNanning/NNG) 2 A320
30-Oct-11 Air China Yiwu (YIW) 4 B733
30-Oct-11 Shandong Airlines Xiamen (XMN; viaJingdezhen/JDZ) 3 B738
30-Oct-11 Sichuan Airlines Shenyang (SHE; viaDongsheng/DSN) 7 A319
30-Oct-11 Sichuan Airlines Tianjin (TSN) 7 A321
15-Dec-11 Etihad Abu Dhabi (AUH) 4 A332
15-Jan-12 Far Eastern Air Transport Kaohsiung (KHH) 2 MD83


  1. Alexander ter Kuile says:

    Regretfully, you regularly make small errors in your analysis. This pulls down the value of your service to those who generally enjoy your product.

    AMSTERDAM – CHENGDU is served 4x/week by KLM with a B747-400 combi aircraft to meet strong pax. and cargo demand. KLM is in competition with dedicated cargo carriers who offer CTU-AMS freighter services.

    – dep. 20:55 AMS – arr. 12:20 CTU KL 0891 Non-Stop B747-400 Combi
    Operation: Sun, Tue, Wed, Fri

    You may have selected the Chinese NEW YEAR week for your data analysis. ALL airlines significantly reduce their flights during this week, by as much as 50%. This would make your entire analysis invalid.
    But…please continue the good work.
    Alexander ter Kuile

    • Indeed, the week analysed is the current week, the Chinese New Year week (the source is OAG Schedules iNET for w/c 23 January 2012), but we don’t agree that this makes the analysis invalid.

      I have compared this week’s schedule with that of random weeks later this winter scheduling season and the differences are not considerable. In fact, while OAG data shows that KLM operates its route three (not four) times weekly during most of the winter season, the twice-weekly schedule is loaded for several weeks in both February and March as well.

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