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China’s aviation industry is growing rapidly, in line with its burgeoning economy. The CAAC is the aviation authority under the Ministry of Transport of the People's Republic of China responsible for civil aviation and the investigation of aviation accidents and incidents. The military controls Chinese airspace (restricted), in addition to flight clearances and authorisations. Non-commercial air travel is subordinate to military traffic and as such, general and private aviation in the country is rare.
Airports in China
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Thailand’s Nok Air is planning to focus on international expansion over the next two years with a focus on China and India. The primarily domestic LCC needs a bigger international operation to diversify its business, improve profitability and unlock a new phase of growth.
Nok has struggled over the last two and a half years to contend with intensifying domestic competition, leading to losses in 2014 and 2015. A pilot shortage led to even steeper losses in 1H2016 as Nok was forced to temporarily reduce domestic capacity and aircraft utilisation levels.
The airline is confident it can return to profitability in 4Q2016 as domestic capacity is restored and is bullish on its medium term outlook as it grows its international operation. China expansion will be the priority in 2017 followed by India in 2018, which will be served with Nok’s new fleet of 737 MAX 8 aircraft and supported by a potential new Indian partner.
AirAsia is doubling down its focus on North Asia with a regional office in Hong Kong overseen by former AirAsia executive Kathleen Tan, who is widely credited for AirAsia's strong Chinese relations and growth in China: AirAsia is the largest non-greater China airline company in the country. Across North Asia the opportunities are large, but the challenges equally big. A China-based AirAsia affiliate would appear to be a long term ambition.
More immediately, AirAsia is regaining a local Northeast Asia presence with the launch of AirAsia Japan Mk II in 2017. Although delayed from initial 2015 start-up projections, AirAsia Japan gives the group relevance in a large domestic market and significantly growing short haul international market.
Elsewhere in Northeast Asia the opportunities are mixed. Korea and Hong Kong are becoming saturated and remain protectionist. Macau and Taiwan are unlikely to be big enough to support a local AirAsia unit.
Hong Kong Airlines to grow in Australia via Virgin Australia partnership. Auckland launches Nov-2016
Having built a regional Asian network anchored around mainland China as a source market, HNA Group's Hong Kong Airlines is leveraging its hub capability from short/medium haul connections to long haul transfers, which also reduce CASK. Hong Kong Airlines resumed long haul flying in early 2016 with a service to Cairns and the Gold Coast. Auckland will be added from Nov-2016 and Hong Kong Airlines should be able to break up the Air New Zealand-Cathay Pacific joint venture on the route.
Hong Kong Airlines is restricted from serving major Australian cities due to bilateral limits (Australia and Hong Kong have not been able to agree on increased capacity levels). Hong Kong Airlines' owner HNA has bought into Virgin Australia, which plans to serve the key HNA hubs of Beijing and Hong Kong in 2017, providing access from major Australian cities. Virgin could also help Hong Kong Airlines make viable service to smaller Australian cities.
Hong Kong Airlines is receiving a lift in Australia and New Zealand bookings, attributed to Asian consumers shifting away from travel in Europe, which has repeatedly been impacted by terrorist acts. Hong Kong Airlines believes that passengers are "viewing Australia and New Zealand together as more of a safe-haven status destination".
Taiwan’s V Air, the LCC unit of TransAsia Airways, will end operations in Sep-2016 having carried only half a million passengers since its Dec-2014 launch. V Air was constantly the underdog to Tigerair Taiwan, although both are loss-making. V Air becomes the second notable Northeast Asian LCC to exit the market after AirAsia Japan (Mk I).
Whereas AirAsia Japan suffered from a shareholder dispute, V Air and TransAsia failed due to an unsuccessful dual brand strategy. The problem was one from the start, not a scenario that unravelled. V Air could have made decisions differently, but ultimately it hinged on TransAsia.
V Air’s collapse is not self-inflicted but rather, a failure of TransAsia. TransAsia’s decision to launch a dual brand strategy was unusual, given the small size of TransAsia and its undefined market position. Instead of the sum of the two airlines being greater than the individual parts, having two sub-scale airlines fragmented both. TransAsia operates 10 jet narrowbodies while V Air operates four. TransAsia will now restructure to pursue a hybrid business model, combining the two.
Malaysian long haul low cost airline AirAsia X is accelerating expansion with several new destinations and more than a 50% increase in capacity. The airline is planning to add at least five new destinations in 2016, including three which have already been launched.
The expansion is driven primarily driven by aircraft utilisation improvements and a reduction in charter operations. AirAsia X is not expanding its fleet in 2H2016 and has no deliveries currently planned for 2017.
However, AirAsia X is looking at options for expanding the Kuala Lumpur-based fleet in 2017, which would drive further capacity growth. Growth is already in the pipeline for 2018 as the airline starts to take delivery of new generation A330-900neos, which will likely be used to launch nonstop flights to Europe.
Beijing Airport splits traffic: Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai race to be Asia's 100 million pax airport
Slower than expected reform of airspace and movement growth at Beijing Capital airport has meant that Asia's largest airport has not, as forecast, overtaken Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson as the world's largest airport. A growth streak in 2015 allowed Atlanta to become the world's first airport to handle over 100 million passengers a year. The future largest airports are expected to be in Istanbul and Dubai, but with those projects some time away from full implementation the next airport to cross the 100 million mark may come from Asia.
If Beijing Capital's growth of recent years continues it could cross the 100 million mark in 2019 – but in that year the opening of the city's second international airport, Beijing Daxing, is expected. China has made official its plan for China Eastern and China Southern and their partners to move to Daxing, while Air China and its partners remain at Capital. The split means that Beijing Capital may not cross the 100 million mark in the near future. Even if growth accelerates, Beijing will hold the title only briefly.
Recent weeks have seen spurts of capacity growth. Tokyo has finalised plans to increase Haneda capacity in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, while Hong Kong has started construction of its third runway. Other Asian hubs – Guangzhou, Seoul Incheon, Shanghai Pudong, Singapore Changi – could put through 100 million passengers towards the late 2020s to 2030s. 100 million passenger airports will test airport management and strengthen the need for airport-airline partnerships.