Hainan Airlines Cuts Fifth Freedom Flights To Dublin And Edinburgh

Chinese carrier Hainan Airlines has confirmed its intention to drop the Beijing-Edinburgh-Dublin-Beijing and the Beijing-Dublin-Edinburgh-Beijing routes from its schedules from the 13th October 2019. Also dropped is the direct connection between Dublin and Shenzhen, which will stop on September 2nd after only nine months of service. At this time, it’s not clear whether these routes will return for summer 2020.

Hainan is dropping their fifth freedom flights to Dublin and Edinburgh. Photo: Tomas Del Coro via Flickr

As reported in Routes Online, Hainan’s recent schedule update sees the closure of the Beijing-Dublin-Edinburgh route from 13th October 2019. As well as this, their 787 Dreamliner service between Shenzhen and Dublin has also been removed from schedules from 2nd September onwards.

Rumors of the route’s closure have been circulating for some time. Back in May, Business Traveler noted that the route had been removed for bookings from September 1st. However, it then reappeared on schedules up to the end of the summer timetable, which ran up to October 26th.

Now, it seems they have picked a date to cease the service, and that’s the 13th October. The removal from the schedule is continued into the winter timetabling after October 27th also. As there’s no guarantee that these flights will return in the summer next year, if you want to catch them they operate Beijing-Dublin-Edinburgh-Beijing on Thursdays and Sundays and Beijing-Edinburgh-Dublin-Beijing on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Why did Hainan close the routes?

With the service only launched in June 2018, the closure of the route a little over a year later signifies some pretty big issues for the carrier. Originally launched as a four times a week service, the carrier cut capacity down to just twice a week just four months later.

Although some capacity reduction was planned for the winter season, Hainan had foreseen dropping just one of the flights, rather than the two that were actually cut. The fact that the frequency did not pick up again as we moved into the summer season this year speaks volumes about the success (or not) of the route.

Hainan 787-9
Hainan previously operated the route with a 787-9 Dreamliner. Photo: Tomas Del Coro via Flickr

So, what’s the problem with Dublin and Edinburgh for the Chinese carrier? Well, some have speculated that it’s a consequence of the high air taxes payable in Scotland. A spokesperson for Edinburgh Airport told the Scotsman,

“We understand this is a suspension of the route over the winter. We’re bitterly disappointed and there will be no let-up in our efforts to maintain Scotland’s only direct link to China and the Far East – but having the most expensive aviation tax in the world doesn’t help.”

However, the Scottish government dispute this, saying that,

“Air passenger duty rates remain the same as those at Manchester where they operate a service and Hainan were already aware that rates would not be changed this year, so it would be wrong to attribute this to the changes to APD policy.”

The cut will be a loss of Scotland’s only direct link to China. Photo: Wikimedia

Business Traveler has recently pointed out that long flights such as this are complex to operate. They also note that “they must overfly Russia, so royalty payments are involved”. Clearly, if the route was unprofitable or suffered low load factors, it wouldn’t make sense for the airline to keep it going.

However, the crunch really comes on load factors. While we don’t have access to the load factors for this specific service, industry commentators have noted that it’s never performed that well. Hainan is not part of any airline alliance, so it’s difficult to book their business class product with points, which has left the planes flying less full than the airline would have liked.

Why we’ll miss the Hainan service

While it’s great for Scotland and Ireland to have a direct link to China, there was another reason we particularly loved the Beijing-Dublin-Edinburgh routing (which was sometimes Beijing-Edinburgh-Dublin too). That’s because it was a fifth freedom flight, and one of the most exciting fifth freedom experiences to be had in the west of Europe.

Passengers traveling between Edinburgh and Dublin could, even in economy, enjoy the comfort and luxury of a widebody aircraft; quite the upgrade over the usual narrowbody and regional jets running this route. Dig a little deeper, and they could upgrade to a fantastic lie flat business class product, something that Noel Philips (Inflight Video) recently enjoyed.

Hainan business class
Fly lie flat between Edinburgh and Dublin. Photo: Noel Philips, Simple Flying

No doubt Dublin will be sorely missing the twice-weekly 787-9 direct service to Shenzhen which is due to stop next month too. Launched in January, the route will have been operational for just nine months when the cessation takes place.

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel, as reporting by the Daily Business suggests that this could just be a winter suspension. Many airlines cut routes over the winter, with a view to reinstating them in spring/summer of the next year. They say that a ‘source from the airline’ suggested that,

“…the intention would be to resume next summer. Planes would be 80% full during July and August, but numbers are expected to decline sharply in the winter. It is thought the airline expects visitors from China to tail off significantly at the end of the [Edinburgh] Festival.”

Simple Flying reached out to Hainan for more information on this and will update the article when we receive a response.