China’s Chengdu Airport stated it has been in talks with United Airlines regarding the carrier launching Boeing 787 services between Chengdu and the US, according to a report by Chengdu Evening News. United CEO Jeffery Smisek reportedly stated the carrier plans to become the first US carrier to operate to secondary cities in China using the 787. Other possible secondary Chinese cities include Chongqing, Xian and Wuhan. As previously reported, United stated the 787 will be key to developing the market of second-tier cities in China. Mr Smisek also previously stated the carrier expects to operate the 787 on weekly Los Angeles-Shanghai service from 31-Mar-2013.
Chengdu Airport and United Airlines in talks for 787 service: report
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Chinese long haul secondary city air routes: BA's Chengdu exit does not reflect the broader market
The fastest long haul airline growth is not occurring with Gulf airlines but rather, with services to and from secondary Chinese cities. It is not a secret that local incentives and subsidies, generally common in any market, are especially large in price and duration for secondary Chinese cities. An airline might expect over a third of revenues to be subsidised. This drastically alters the business case in a low-margin industry, hence the proliferation of secondary city services. This extreme dependence on subsidies raises the question of how long governments are willing to issue generous subsidies, and how many routes can be sustainable without them.
British Airways' decision to exit its only secondary Chinese route to Chengdu, in Jan-2017, might suggest the music is ending and the secondary long haul bubble is popping. There is added colour given the recent UK-China air service agreement expansion, and Brexit/British pound depreciation overhangs.
BA's exit does confirm market fundamentals: secondary city yields are low, and some routes are ahead of their time. Yet a number of factors unique to British Airways suggest caution in concluding that BA's Chengdu exit could foreshadow other withdrawals.
Lucky Air to be China's first long haul LCC, to Europe/N America in 2016; China international up 29%
There are debates about impacts from China's "new normal" of slower growth. Yet from an aviation perspective, it so far remains evident that aviation is not as impacted – despite the typical correlation between traffic growth and GDP. Chinese traffic is heavily leisure-oriented; China's middle class is growing; thirst for international travel is expanding; visa liberalisation continues to improve and foreign countries (and their airports) are embracing of Chinese visitors. All these factors make travel easier, and the Chinese government is encouraging – sometimes by force – for its airlines to "go out".
The first four months of 2016 experienced a smaller growth rate of 29% compared with 4M2015's 40% increase, but the net addition of passengers in 2016 so far is larger than in 2015. The international market is becoming more crowded with new operators.
The latest will be Lucky Air – the Kunming-based LCC division of the HNA Group and U-FLY Alliance. Lucky intends to deploy 787-9s to Europe and North America by the end of 2016.