There can be no doubt about the long-term growth opportunity for Chinese airlines in long haul markets. But the short term is challenged by air traffic rights being exhausted or nearly utilised in key markets such as Canada, Germany and the US. The foreign parties have sticking points – slots, overflight rights – that are not easily solved, meaning that Chinese airlines could face a few years of dancing around bilaterals that are maximised, or they may experience only incremental growth.
Yet widebody aircraft deliveries are growing. The four main Chinese airlines – Air China, China Eastern, China Southern and Hainan – will take 22 further widebodies in 2016, 18 in 2017 and then 37 in 2018. These are official figures and exclude pending deals (10x 777-300ERs for China Eastern) as well as aircraft that appear on order books at the last minute. This also excludes the growing widebody operation at secondary airlines such as Beijing Capital Airlines, Tibet Airlines and Xiamen Airlines. Air China and China Eastern have 50-80% as many widebodies on order as they do in service.
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