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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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Delta Air Lines is rekindling its partnership with Korean Air. Delta has previously used heavy-handed tactics – cutting off codeshares, nearly eliminating reciprocal frequent flyer benefits otherwise enshrined in their SkyTeam alliances – to bully Korean Air into a JV. The attraction to Delta is a JV partner in Asia, which American and United have long enjoyed.
Korean Air, until recently, has failed to see the benefits of a partnership with Delta, which has a smaller trans-Pacific footprint. Although Korean Air felt the damage from all but losing its North American partner, what Delta needed to give Korean Air was time. It has helped that Delta is no longer pursuing a hub in Tokyo – a rival to Korean Air and Seoul.
A deeper Delta-Korean Air partnership, as hinted at by Delta management in Dec-2016, starts with both feeling competitive trans-Pacific pressure but jointly holding a position of strength, with a JV slightly smaller than United-ANA's, but much larger than American-JAL. Korean Air brings wider coverage to Southeast Asia, as well as North American gateways.
Korea's LCC sector ended 2016 with 103 aircraft – the first time the collective fleet had crossed the 100 mark for what, until recently, was Northeast Asia's most dynamic market. Korea has six LCCs, with Jeju Air regaining a strong lead as the largest LCC. Half of Korea's LCC fleet has been added in the last three years. It is Northeast Asia's largest LCC market after China and, surprisingly, well ahead of Japan.
But overall Northeast Asia's LCC sector is pale in comparison to Southeast Asia, whose LCCs operate 74% more aircraft. Lion Air alone has more aircraft than all of Korea, while the AirAsia Group has more than all of China. Only three of East Asia's ten largest LCCs are in Northeast Asia.
And it is unclear how much further Korea's LCCs can grow in the short term. They have mostly flown domestically, and slots are now constrained. International opportunities are also challenging, and further complicated by the Jan-2017 decision of China to reject charter applications during the popular – and very profitable – Chinese New Year. Korea's LCCs needed liberalisation, not antagonism.
As 2016 draws to a close, CAPA - Centre for Aviation reviews the past year for aviation in the Australia Pacific region and what lies ahead for 2017.
In an uncertain world, from the disruption of Brexit to the likely confrontationalist attitudes of a Trump administration, and instability in many parts of the world, from Russia to the Middle East to Asia, Australia and New Zealand's aviation sectors are mostly in rude health, with liberal policy settings and globally high service levels. Yet each of the main airlines in Australia and New Zealand still relies heavily on its domestic markets.
China has asserted its relevance in world aviation recently and over the past couple of years its airlines have rapidly expanded into the two south Pacific countries. With 2017 declared the ‘China Australia Year of Tourism’ by China’s tourism bureau, continued substantial activity can be expected in that market.
Qantas' 787 Perth-London service plans have made clear the role of the long haul medium size equipment, but aside from the innovative elements, retaining a cost focus and keeping the basics under control will be key to the future.
Bangkok Airways is focusing expansion in 2017 on the greater China market, with three new destinations and three new airline codeshare partners. China point of sale now accounts for 8% of revenues for Bangkok Airways – up from approximately 4% in 2015, with further large gains expected in 2017.
Bangkok Airways resumed services to mainland China in mid-2016 after a seven-year hiatus with flights from Samui to Chengdu. In Jan-2017 Chengdu is being upgraded to daily, and a daily service from Samui to Guangzhou will be launched. Samui-Chongqing is planned for later in 2017, giving Bangkok Airways three destinations in mainland China and four when Hong Kong is included.
Bangkok Airways is also planning to launch services from Samui to Taipei by the end of 2017. It already has codeshares with both of Taiwan’s main airlines – which will likely be expanded – and with Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific, but its relationships with mainland Chinese airlines are now limited to interlines.
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.
The Thai Airways Group is planning further expansion of its regional network in 2017 using its full service subsidiary Thai Smile. Thai Smile has launched or resumed services to eight international destinations in 2017 and is considering the addition of several new destinations in 2017 across Southeast Asia, India and China.
The expansion of the Thai Smile regional international network is critical as Thai Airways expands in Europe. The group’s new strategy relies heavily on increased feed to its Australia, Europe and future North American operation by adding secondary destinations and improving connectivity.
This is the second part of an analysis report on the Thai Airways Group. In the first part CAPA focused on Thai’s long haul operation, in particular expansion plans for Europe. In this part CAPA will examine the outlook and plan for the group’s regional operation, including Thai Smile.