Air travel in China still booming; international traffic growing really fast; some domestic routes served by as many as 10 airlines

Thanks to its new 787-8s Xiamen Airlines has launched new international routes in recent weeks from Xiamen to Amsterdam (27 July) and Tokyo Narita (6 August). The carrier is now the fifth largest Chinese carrier in terms of international seat capacity after China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Air China and Spring Airlines.

The growth in demand for air travel to, from and within China shows no signs of slowing down in 2015, despite some concerns about developments in the country’s economic performance. Figures from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) reveal that in the first five months of 2015 domestic passenger numbers were up 10.5% to 158.7 million. While this continues to be impressive the real development has been on international services where passenger numbers from January to May are up a whopping 39.4% to 16.6 million compared to the same period in 2014.

Chart - Chinese airlines development Year-on-year change in passengers: 2007 to 5/2015

Source: CAAC.

31 airlines serving the domestic market

According to OAG data there are currently 31 Chinese airlines operating domestic services in China. The three biggest Chinese carriers (China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines and Air China) currently account for just under 50% of all domestic seat capacity.

Chart - Top 15 domestic airlines in China Weekly departing seats (millions) on domestic routes

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser for w/c 17 August 2015.

Competition is intense on many Chinese domestic routes. According to OAG Schedules Analyser data there are currently three airport pairs on which 10 different airlines operate services. These are the 2,483-kilometre sector between Urumqi and Zhengzhou, the 1,064-kilometre sector between Urumqi and Kashi, and the 391-kilometre sector between Kunming and Jinghong. On the longest of these three routes, eight of the ten carriers operate the route daily (Beijing Capital Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, China West Air, Shenzhen Airlines, Sichuan Airlines, Tianjin Airlines, Urumqi Airlines and Xiamen Airlines) while China Southern Airlines and Hainan Airlines each operate the route with three daily flights. Apart from these three ultra-competitive routes there are three further routes with nine competing carriers, nine routes with eight carriers and 20 routes with seven competing airlines.

Spring Airlines doubles international capacity in last 12 months

Analysis of OAG Schedules Analyser data for August 2015 and August 2014 reveals that international seat capacity across all airlines serving Chinese airports is up 12.8%. All of the top 15 airlines have increased their international capacity to and from China during the last 12 months, with the exception of Hong Kong Airlines.

Top 15 international airlines in China Monthly departing seats on international routes in Aug 15 (Change from August 14 to August 15)

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser data for August 2015 and August 2014.

Carriers not based in China, Hong Kong or Taiwan are shown in bright green and are led by South Korea’s Korean Air which has overtaken Asiana Airlines. The fastest-growing airlines in the international market among the top 15 carriers are Spring Airlines (+98%), Xiamen Airlines (+36%) and Thai AirAsia (+29%). Spring Airlines is only the 12th biggest airline in the Chinese domestic market, but ranks fourth among Chinese carriers for international seat capacity. A total of 121 airlines are currently operating international services to Chinese airports. New additions in the last 12 months have been Air Arabia, Nok Air, Turkmenistan Airlines, Ukraine International Airlines and VietJetAir, as well as the return of Alitalia which resumed flights between Milan Malpensa and Shanghai Pudong at the beginning of May.

Air Asia China

Thai AirAsia is now one of the top 15 airlines operating international services to China. It has grown capacity by nearly 30% in the last 12 months and added two new routes; Krabi to Guangzhou (6 November 2014) and Chiang Mai to Chongqing (25 September 2014).


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