China Eastern Airlines poised to smash 100 million annual passengers; Xi’an is biggest route from Shanghai Pudong

In January, China Eastern Airlines’ inaugural flight from its biggest operational base Shanghai Pudong landed in Brisbane. Australia is the airline’s fifth biggest country market from Pudong, and has grown by 52% since last February, due in part to this new thrice-weekly service.

In January, China Eastern Airlines’ inaugural flight from its biggest operational base Shanghai Pudong landed in Brisbane. Australia is the airline’s fifth biggest country market from Pudong, and has grown by 52% since last February, due in part to this new thrice-weekly service.

In the run up to Chinese New Year next week, we thought it would be a good time to review the operations of China’s second largest airline (in every meaningful metric, see table below), China Eastern Airlines. The SkyTeam carrier operates 1.96 million weekly seats, on over 12,200 weekly frequencies, delivering 2.43 billion weekly ASKs. Its current total network covers 198 destinations across 31 countries (all statistics according to OAG schedule date for week commencing 1 February).

Rank 1 Rank 2 Rank 3 Rank 4
ASKs China Southern Airlines China Eastern Airlines (-18.3%) Air China (-23.2%) Hainan Airlines (-59.1%)
Seats China Southern Airlines China Eastern Airlines (-6.2%) Air China (-33.5%) Hainan Airlines (-60.7%)
Frequencies China Southern Airlines China Eastern Airlines (-4.8%) Air China (-40%) Hainan Airlines (-64.2%)
Source: OAG Schedules Analyser w/c 01 February.

The above table ranks China’s top four airlines in terms of weekly ASKs, seats and frequencies, with no big surprises revealed. Perhaps of more interest are the figures in brackets which represent how much smaller each respective airline is in relation to #1 carrier China Southern Airlines in each metric. So while China Eastern is close to the biggest Chinese carrier in terms of weekly seats and frequencies, when it comes to ASKs, it is nearly 20% behind China Southern.

100m passenger barrier to be broken

Since 2006, the airline has nearly tripled in size, from just over 35 million passengers to nearly 94 million in 2015. Over the last three years the airline has grown on average by 9% per annum, and should this figure be achieved again in 2016, China Eastern will breach 100 million annual passengers for the first time in its history this year. The importance of the airline’s domestic network has become more significant in the ten-year period being considered in the graph below, rising from 79% in 2006 to 84% last year.

Source: Airline website.

Source: Airline website.

Completed in February 2010, China Eastern merged with Shanghai Airlines, which at least partially explains the 47% growth spike in passenger numbers witnessed in that year. Reviewing the airline’s monthly traffic figures for 2015, August was its busiest month, with 9.18 million passengers carried, while January was its quietest month, with 6.68 million passengers handled.

Xi’an exceeds all at Pudong

While concentrating solely on the operations of the SkyTeam carrier at its biggest hub (in terms of weekly seats) of Shanghai Pudong, (#2 is Kunming and #3 is Shanghai Hongqiao), the airline’s #1 route is unsurprisingly a domestic one, the 1,275-kilometre sector to Xi’an. Growing at 16% since the same week in 2015, Xi’an leads the airline’s top 12 routes, all of which posted positive capacity increases in the last 12 months. The top 12 routes represent 35% of the airline’s total capacity at Pudong, falling slightly from the result achieved last year of 36%. Total seats at the airport have grown by over 22% since last February, to nearly 245,000.

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser w/c 1 February.

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser w/c 1 February.

The fastest growing airport pair was the sector to Taipei Taoyuan, which has nearly doubled (+98%) in size since last February, also seeing the route leap from 14th in 2015 to fourth in 2016. With 21% annual growth, Tokyo Narita has also mustered some impressive table climbing over the previous 12 months, rising from 18th to 11th this time out. Pudong is the airline’s most important international hub, and the top 12 routes confirms that fact, with six sectors being international (highlighted in light green). Last February there were only four international routes, as Chongqing, Beijing and Harbin have fallen from the top 12, having been replaced by Taoyuan, Narita and Shenyang.

Fast growing Taiwan nearly doubles in size

Of the airline’s 31 country markets, 23 are offered from Pudong this February. This figure has grown by one over the last year, with Sri Lanka being added to China Eastern’s network, with the launch on 21 September of a four times weekly service to Colombo. Driven by the airline’s capacity increases to Taoyuan, Taiwan also takes the title as the fastest growing country market for China Eastern at Pudong. The top 12 country markets represent nearly 94% of the airline’s total seats, down from nearly 95% a year ago.

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser w/c 1 February.

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser w/c 1 February.

Again there are no country markets inside the top 12 which have witnessed capacity cuts when comparing February 2016 results with those from February 2015. However, worthy of note is the performance of the US and Australian markets, both growing in excess of 50% year-on-year, seeing the duo surpass Hong Kong in the top 12, despite its own far from sluggish 12% annual growth. Thailand is the worst performing market (if you can call it that), which delivered only a 9.4% increase in weekly seats.

More long-haul services to come

Looking ahead, China Eastern’s long-haul network at Pudong will be further improved in March when it is expected to launch daily 777-300 services to Chicago O’Hare, and then in April when its adds four times weekly operations to Amsterdam and thrice-weekly services Prague. In June it is also mooted that the SkyTeam carrier will introduce a daily service to Madrid, as well as St Petersburg from its biggest Chinese base. All of these potential new routes are according to anna.aero’s New Route Database.

The merger between China Eastern Airlines and Shanghai Airlines, which was completed in 2010, resulted in a 47% spike in passenger numbers at the former to nearly 65 million in that year. In 2015, the airline handled nearly 94 million passengers, and seems poised to break the 100 million barrier in 2016 if its recent 9% annual growth continues.

The merger between China Eastern Airlines and Shanghai Airlines, which was completed in 2010, resulted in a 47% spike in passenger numbers at the former to nearly 65 million in that year. In 2015, the airline handled nearly 94 million passengers, and seems poised to break the 100 million barrier in 2016 if its recent 9% annual growth continues.


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Comments

  1. The stats in this article seem rather confused. Shanghai Airlines maybe part of the China Eastern group but operates separately as a brand so are you including it in all stats or not? Also CZ and CA have similar large subsidiaries (though not 100% owned) in the form of Xiamen Airlines, Shandong Airlines and Shenzhen Airlines all of which are significant sizes themselves. Are you including these or not because if not the whole comparison is thrown out of whack. You’d be better off comparing the size of the groupings than the individual airlines. I’d expect Air China to compare more favourably if you did that. As it is it is unclear whether you are including MU and FM together and whether you are or aren’t talking about the groups themselves.

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