China’s Juneyao Airlines Set To Launch Direct Flights To Athens

Chinese airline Juneyao Air is set to launch direct flights from Shanghai to Athens starting in July 2020. A new deal was signed during the Greek Prime Minister’s three-day visit to China and comes just one day after the two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding to increase the travel links between the two nations.

Juneyao Air
Juneyao Air will fly to Athens. Photo: Juneyao Air

Memorandum of Understanding

Last week, the two countries’ governments signed an agreement to increase the number of flights connecting the two nations to 35 a week, up from the current 14. Although this agreement is not legally binding and does not mention specific airlines, it does show the intention to work together to a mutually beneficial outcome.

The new deal

Today, Juneyao Air has become the first Chinese airline to commit to launching a new direct flight route from Shanghai to Athens off the back of the new understanding.

The deal, signed by Greek Secretary-General for tourism Konstantinos Loulis, and Juneyao Air Co Ltd President and Director Zhao Hong Liang, will see Juneyao Air open the new route in July 2020. The flight will operate three times a week using a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Juneyao Air and Greek Minister
Greek Secretary-General for Tourism Konstantinos Loulis with Juneyao Air Co Ltd President and Director Zhao Hong Liang. Photo: GTP

News site is reporting that “Juneyao has taken delivery of five wide-body Boeing 787s since October 2018 and will take delivery of another in November” in order to facilitate its expansion.

The current proposed schedule (subject to change) is:

HO1657 Shanghai Pudong to Athens: Departs PVG at 00:25, arriving at 07:40 in ATH. The flight will be operated by a Boeing 787-9 on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday
HO1658 Athens to Shanghai Pudong: Departs ATH at 13:15, arriving at 04:55 (+1 day) in PVG. The flight will be operated by a Boeing 787-9 on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday

In a statement to GTP, Konstantinos Loulis said,

“The direct air connection between Athens and Shanghai will play a vital role in boosting the number of Chinese travelers to Greece. Of the more than 140 million Chinese tourists who traveled abroad in 2018, only 125,000 visited Greece. Our goal is to quadruple that number immediately to 500,000 Chinese tourists coming to Greece.”

Juneyao Airlines Co aircraft
Juneyao Air Co will soon be operating a direct flight from Shanghai to Athens. Photo: Alec Wilson via Flickr

Currently, only Air China flies directly between Greece and China. It offers flights three times a week from Athens to Beijing.

This deal with Juneyao Air is the first to be announced after the new Memorandum of Understanding. However, It is expected that in January 2020, Greece and China will publish a joint statement that will clarify which other airlines are allowed to fly between China and Greece.

The initial agreement, signed on Sunday, had already made it clear that destinations other the Athens and Beijing will be considered for new routes, so the route from Shanghai is not a surprise.

Juneyao Air and Greece signing the deal
China and Greece already have an understanding to boost tourism by increased direct flights. Photo: Juneyao Air

More Chinese airline deals

In June of this year, it was reported that three Chinese airlines had applied to the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) for new flight routes to Europe. Juneyao Air was one of the three airlines that applied for new European routes, along with China Eastern Airlines and Beijing Capital Airlines.

Juneyao had applied for routes between Shanghai and Manchester and Shanghai and Athens. With the Shanghai to Athens route now agreed, should we be expecting the other applications to be successful as well?

China Eastern Airline planes
Juneyao Air are not the only airline trying to expand into Europe. China Eastern have applied for direct flights to Milan. Photo: byeangel via Flickr

China Daily recently reported that “China will become the world’s largest aviation market in the next three to six years”. Estimates put the number of passengers traveling through Chinese airports at a staggering 980 million by 2022 according to the International Air Transport Association. The American aviation market is predicted to have less than 960 million in 2022.

Opening up new direct routes to Europe means China is closing this gap in the market and may well reach this estimate. We’ve already seen rapid growth in this area in recent years; only 14 Chinese airlines had European routes in 2014 but now, there are 23.

This new deal between Greece and Juneyao Air Co may be the next step in the growth of the Chinese aviation industry. What do you think? Will we be seeing more airlines opening up direct routes to China in the coming years? And will the Chinese aviation market overtake the American market in the next few years? Let us know what you think in the comments.