China’s airlines trump U.S. rivals on Pacific routes
Chinese carriers race to secure new flights even commercially shaky ones.
Chinese airlines are capitalizing on the wanderlust of China’s rising middle class by expanding their long-haul routes, and at a pace that is fast upending the hierarchy of global aviation.
Since September, Chinese carriers have added seven direct flights to North America—including routes from second-tier cities less known abroad including Zhengzhou, Qingdao and Xiamen. By comparison, U.S. carriers launched just two China routes in all of 2016.
UK-based aviation industry consultant John Grant characterized the situation as a “land grab,” with China’s airlines scrambling to secure new routes—even commercially shaky ones—in the hope they will become viable in the future.
While low fuel prices and newly acquired fleets of fuel-efficient jets make it even cheaper for Chinese airlines to fly long-haul, turning a profit on these unproven routes might still take years.
China’s big three state carriers have filled about 80% of seats on long-haul flights this year, company disclosures show, while their U.S. rivals cross the Pacific at about 85% capacity.
No matter—Chinese airlines care more about “strategic positioning and long-term prospects” than about near-term viability.
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