Hainan Airlines revealed at the IATA annual meeting plans to commence negotiations with global airline alliances as it seeks to expedite its international expansion (Yicai.com, 08-Jun-2010). The carrier has not revealed which alliance it hopes to join. According to Hainan Airlines, Cathay Pacific was an obstacle to it joining oneworld several years ago and remains against the carrier joining the alliance today. Any mainland carrier wishing to join oneworld will need Cathay to act as a sponsor airline. Air China is a member of the Star Alliance while China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines have announced their membership with SkyTeam.
Hainan Airlines seeking to join global alliance, Cathay still an obstacle
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China has agreed to liberalise passenger flights and remove capacity restrictions with Australia, its largest outbound long haul market after the United States. This is a relief to Chinese airlines, which face bilateral constraints in North America and Europe. The result is already evident as Chinese airlines deploy more capacity and larger aircraft to Australia.
In North American and European markets the local governments hold back on traffic right expansion (let alone open skies). But for Australia it was the Australian government, which signalled some years ago that it wanted to liberalise once China was ready – a time that has now come.
Australia's view was progressive and detached from bygone days of national carrier interest; Chinese airlines hold 90% of the market to Australia. Elsewhere many governments still hold back on Chinese traffic right expansion so their local airlines can continue to grow. There are 15 Chinese airports that have nonstop flights to Australia with a total of 27 airport pairs – figures that should expand in 2017 as the market evolves further with the Virgin Australia-HNA partnership.
Global alliances as the airline system metamorphoses: A view to 2025
The international aviation world will look very different in a decade. The big US airlines are re-emerging from their shells as prosperity (and slow growth in their mature domestic market) prompts them to go forth internationally.
China is inevitably and remorselessly stamping its shape on global markets; the Gulf carriers continue to expand and attract the ire of those who prefer the status quo; and low cost carriers proliferate and metamorphose.
And all this while, sadly, airlines look like remaining confined to the 1940s’ archaic ownership and control rules. Within this confinement, they continue to struggle to find new ways of expanding their geography – and, in some cases, of restricting others’. International markets have another drawback. They tend to be much more competitive, in diverse ways, than nationally protected domestic markets.