Sichuan Airlines expanding network from Chengdu with Australia, Europe & North America routes


Sichuan Airlines is joining the growing list of second-tier Chinese carriers which are setting their sights on the long-haul international market. Sichuan Airlines general manager Li Haiying, as quoted by Carnoc.com this month, stated the carrier’s international network expansion would take off next year, supported by the carrier’s A330-200 fleet, leased from AerCap.

Sichuan Airlines commenced international services in 2007 and now operates a network of nine Southeast Asian destinations. Destinations in its network include Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Phuket, Saipan, Seoul Incheon, Taichung, Tapei Songshan and Taipei Taoyuan. The carrier operates only within Asia at present, with around 11,600 seats deployed on these services per week. It plans to expand this network profile considerably to include destinations in Europe, North America and Australia.

Sichuan Airlines international capacity by region: 19-Dec-2011 to 25-Dec-2011

Using A330 fleet to grow internationally and become ‘one of the top five Chinese airlines’

Upon the delivery of its first long-haul aircraft – an A330-200 – in Feb-2010, Sichuan Airlines stated its future plans would involve competing on high-density routes, both in the domestic and international arenas.

“The fleet of A330s will be deployed on domestic trunk routes from the airline's home base of Chengdu to major cities such as Beijing and Shenzhen; on regional routes within Asia and on international long haul routes from Chengdu to Europe,” the carrier said. Chairman Lan Xinguo at the time added the A330 fleet would support the carrier’s evolution from a national airline to “one of the top five Chinese airlines”.

Sichuan Airlines, an affiliate of China Southern Airlines, is the sixth largest carrier by weekly seats, based on Innovata Dec-2011 data, behind China Southern, China Eastern, Air China, Hainan Airlines and Shenzhen Airlines. In terms of international capacity, it only ranks as the 35th largest carrier operating service to/from China.

Top 10 airlines in China (domestic and international) by weekly seats: 28-Nov-2011 to 04-Dec-2011



Total seats


China Southern Airlines



China Eastern Airlines



Air China



Xiamen Airlines



Hainan Airlines



Shenzhen Airlines



Sichuan Airlines



Shanghai Airlines



Shandong Airlines



Spring Airlines


Targeting Melbourne as a new long-haul destination in 2012; Sydney also a potential destination

Sichuan Airlines plans to launch Chengdu-Melbourne service between Aug-2012 and Oct-2012, marking the carrier’s first foray into the South Pacific market. Chengdu Airport’s future route map also indicates a Sydney service, although the carrier has not confirmed this service.

Chengdu Airport existing and planned route network as at Dec-2011

As previously reported, Sichuan Airlines is also progressively increasing capacity on the Chongqing-Phuket sector, with plans for a six times weekly service as part of its 2011/12 winter schedule. Sichuan Airlines is the sole operator on the sector.

The airline's vice director general Hu Pingshu stated last month the carrier is considering increasing Chengdu-Nanning-Ho Chi Minh City frequency from twice weekly to three or four times weekly and then daily. The carrier, which launched service on the sector in Sep-2011, also plans to operate directly between Chengdu and Ho Chi Minh City without transiting in Nanning. Sichuan Airlines has an average load factor of 70% on the route, with the frequency increase to commence once load factors average around 80%. At present, Sichuan Airlines is the sole operator between Nanning and Ho Chi Minh City, while there are no direct services between Nanning and Ho Chi Minh City, based on Innovata data.

To enter North American market in Apr-2012; LAX and New York also potential
destinations from Chengdu

As previously reported by CAPA, the carrier plans to launch its first North American destination in Apr-2012 with the launch of Chengdu-Shenyang-Vancouver service. Sichuan Airlines and Vancouver Airport met on 06-Nov-2011 and signed a LoI for the service, which will initially be operated with three times weekly frequency. 

In North America, Chengdu Airport also has New York JFK and Los Angeles on its network map, with both these destinations unserved from the airport at present. The airport, at present, does not host any scheduled services, passenger or freight, to the Americas.

Chengdu Airport international capacity by region: 19-Dec-2011 to 25-Dec-2011

Targeting Amsterdam as new long-haul destination in 2012; London Gatwick, Vienna and
Paris CDG also potential destinations from Chengdu

Sichuan Airlines also plans to offer a Chengdu-Amsterdam service with a daily frequency in Jun-2012. Mr Li, as quoted by WCC Daily, stated the carrier plans to operate the Amsterdam service through a commercial agreement, although he did not disclose its partner on the planned service. KLM, Sichuan Airlines’ sole codeshare partner, is the sole operator on the route with a three times weekly frequency service, in codeshare with Air France and China Southern Airlines.

According to Chengdu Airport’s route network map, the airport will also gain service to London Gatwick, Vienna and Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport in the future. Amsterdam is currently served by KLM and Jade Cargo, while Luxembourg is served by Yangtze River Express. Frankfurt and Milan Malpensa are both served by Air China Cargo. Krasnoyarsk, Novosibirsk and Yekaterinburg are also served by dedicated freighter services.

KLM targeting China with own metal and through codeshares

In addition to Sichuan Airlines, KLM also has codeshare agreements with China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines in China, as it seeks to aggressively expand its presence in the region.

KLM CEO Peter Hartman stated China's rapidly expanding civil aviation market provides significant potential for international airlines, with KLM optimistic about the rapid growth of demand in the China market. KLM senior VP corporate communications Pieter Elbers stated the company will focus on the Chinese market as part of its strategy to continue to expand its business in Asia. KLM offers service to seven destinations in greater China – Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Xiamen and Hong – with 53 weekly services between Amsterdam and China. KLM expects Asia operations to account for nearly 30% of the carrier's seat sales on long-haul services in summer 2011.

Air France-KLM Group as a whole expects revenue in China to double within six years with Air France-KLM chairman Alexandre de Juniac, as quoted by China Daily earlier this month, commented that “the group's business growth in China is two times or even three times quicker than in other countries and regions in the past three years. We expect our revenue to double in about six years if this growth momentum continues". The company plans to launch several new routes in the next two to three years, strengthening cooperation with its Chinese partners. The Group will increase passenger capacity on the mainland by 9% by 2012, CCO Bruno Matheu said.

In other codeshare developments, China Eastern Airlines and KLM launched their codeshare agreement in Nov-2011 covering services between China and Europe. Services under the agreement as follows:

KLM also expanded its codeshare with China Southern Airlines in Jun-2011, marking the commencement of codesharing of services beyond China. In addition to China Southern AirlinesGuangzhou-Amsterdam service, the carrier will operate on the carrier’s Australia and New Zealand service, as well as 21 domestic routes within China. The codeshare routes include: AmsterdamGuangzhou; GuangzhouBeijing; GuangzhouChangchun; GuangzhouChangsha; GuangzhouChengdu; GuangzhouChongqing; GuangzhouDalianHarbin; GuangzhouGuilin; GuangzhouGuiyangGuangzhouHaikou; GuangzhouKunming; GuangzhouNanjing; GuangzhouNanning; GuangzhouNingbo; GuangzhouQingdao; GuangzhouSanya; GuangzhouShenyang; GuangzhouWenzhou; GuangzhouWuhan; Guangzhou–Xi’an; GuangzhouXiamen; GuangzhouZhengzhou; GuangzhouAuckland; GuangzhouBrisbane; GuangzhouMelbourne; GuangzhouSydney; and XiamenAmsterdam.

The carrier is also targeting Xiamen Airlines, a subsidiary of China Southern Airlines and future SkyTeam partner. Mr Hartman met with Xiamen City earlier this week and expressed interest in strengthening the carrier’s cooperation with the Chinese city as well as major Chinese carriers including Xiamen Airlines. Mr Hartman met with Xiamen Airlines to discuss possible cooperation between the two carriers covering the areas of codeshare services, frequent flyer programme (FFP) reciprocity, ticket sales and aircraft maintenance. Xiamen Airlines last month stated it is open to cooperation with KLM in the future including in the areas of codesharing, staff training, aircraft maintenance and ground services.

Domestic market remains Sichuan Airlines’ bread and butter but international aspirations exist

The domestic market remains Sichuan Airlines' bread and butter, with 96.6% of total seats per week deployed domestically. However, while the carrier is predominantly domestically focussed at present, with only a handful of international destinations (including Hong Kong and Taiwan), the carrier is increasingly expanding its reach following the commencement of international operations less than five years ago.

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