As the United Kingdom seems likely to continue its plan to leave the European Union, although now with an extension until 22 May, we have taken a look at what could happen to UK aviation, especially as it concerns China.
Analysis of current air services from China to Europe reveals a development over the last two
years that should provide some reassurances that the United Kingdom will continue to have scheduled services to China.
Historically, the UK has been one of the smaller European markets from China. This can be attributed in part to its geographic location at the extreme West of Europe. The UK isn’t seen as a connecting point for onward services from China, and here are plenty of hub airports located between China and the UK which can provide a range of connecting services from across China to the whole of the United Kingdom, rather than just London.
In the last two years this has been changing. The number of scheduled air services between China and the United Kingdom has increased by 40%. New carriers such as Hainan Airlines, Tianjin Airways and Beijing Capital Airlines have all entered the market while direct services have also been launched to Manchester and, more recently, Edinburgh.
The growth in new services is a result of a conscious programme between the two Governments to develop more direct air access following the successful visit of President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the United Kingdom in October 2015. Soon after that visit, in early 2016, a new air service agreement between the two countries was signed which allowed for a 50% increase in flights between the two countries with the potential for up to 150 flights a week.
This initiative, and the growing trade activity between the two countries, has resulted in new levels of interest from Chinese Airlines to operate to the United Kingdom which has also been supported by some aggressive and compelling marketing from UK regional airports towards those airlines.
As a result, the number of Chinese visitors to the United Kingdom has doubled in the last three years with further growth expected. Visitors from China have been encouraged by the weakness of the UK currency and this continues to make the UK an attractive destination and entry point for trips to Europe. The potential of the Chinese tourist is reflected in the fact that China also remains one of the key focus markets for the efforts of Visit Britain, the UK’s inward tourism development agency which has developed a number of trade partnerships with Chinese online travel agencies such as C-Trip.
Since the United Kingdom has never been a member of the Schengen Agreement that allows for a multiple entry visa to a number of European countries, the visa position for Chinese visitors will not change following Brexit.
Indeed, it is likely that it will be “business as usual” between China and the United Kingdom after Brexit. If anything, there may be more focus on expanding links as the UK will be seeking to create new trading agreements with countries around the globe. One area where some development has already been seen is in the number of Chinese students completing their education in the United Kingdom. Many such students entertain their families on visits to the UK while studying and make the most of the opportunity to see more of their host country and take trips to iconic destinations.
Brexit will undoubtedly create some uncertainty, not just in the United Kingdom but overseas as well. But reassuringly, it could create new exciting opportunities for China - UK trade and travel and that would be good for everyone!