The Chinese market is one of the fastest-growing areas in global aviation. This trend is seen everywhere, from manufacturers predicting unprecedented demand for new aircraft, to the rapid proliferation of international flights to and from China. In particular, many smaller (at least by Chinese standards) and lesser-known cities are starting to receive major international services. In many ways, this has been due to the growth of lesser-known Chinese carriers, such as Hainan Airlines and their subsidiaries, and the much lesser known Juneyao Airlines. But China’s more established airlines, such as Air China, have not been absent from this trend.
Last week, Air China expanded further by announcing the launch of a new route this spring between Chengdu’s Shuangliu International Airport (CTU) and London Heathrow (LHR). The route, scheduled to commence on April 2, 2019, will feature three weekly flights operated by an Airbus A330-200 in a high-density configuration. Air China’s high-density configuration features a smaller premium cabin, with 30 business and 207 economy seats.
Air China flight CA423 will depart Chengdu at 12:25 local time and arrive in Heathrow at 16:45 local time. The return flight, CA424, will depart Heathrow at 22:00 local time and arrive in Chengdu at 15:25 the next day. Flights will operate on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday.
A Challenging Market
Flights between Heathrow and Chengdu have been tried before – with less than encouraging results. In 2013, British Airways added a service between the two cities, which featured five flights weekly. The service was reduced to three weekly flights in 2014, before they axed the route two years later.
Since then, Air China has been flying a route between London Gatwick and Chengdu – and in a vote of confidence for that route, they are upgrading it to a Heathrow service. In doing so, Air China is attempting to succeed where British Airways failed. It remains to be seen if they will fare any better, but they do have some advantages which British Airways didn’t have. In particular, the Air China brand is better known in the Chinese market itself, which provides much of the demand for routes such as these. Nevertheless, only time will tell if this will be enough to change the route’s fortunes.