Air China has confirmed that Houston will be the next destination in its proposed North American network expansion with plans to introduce a four times weekly link to the city’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport from Beijing with effect from July 11, 2013. The Star Alliance member already serves Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco but revealed last year that the arrival of its new Boeing 777-300ERs would allow it to boost its activities in this market. This growth will be further complemented by the arrival of 787 Dreamliners later in the decade allowing the introduction of flights to many secondary US cities.
The state-controlled Chinese national airline has been confirmed as the designated carrier for this route by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) and it has rights to operate up to a daily service providing it can secure the required access as the two airports. This will be the first non-stop link from Houston into China and will support a growing demand for air services between these two markets.
In 2011 an estimated 77,000 O&D passengers travelled between Houston and mainland China, up 6.8 per cent on the previous year and more than double the figure from just five years ago. The majority of this demand is for the major Chinese gateways of Beijing and Shanghai with around 21,000 O&D passengers travelling between Houston and Beijing and 27,000 between Houston and Shanghai.
Although there are currently no non-stop flights between Houston and Beijing, Star Alliance has a particularly strong presence in this market thanks to the existing flights of Air China and United between China and the US. The majority of passengers on the route currently fly via San Francisco which both airlines connect to the Chinese capital, although there is also notable traffic flows via Chicago O’Hare, a market served by United as well as its US rival American Airlines.
Alongside the strong O&D demand, the proposed new Air China route will feed into United’s hub at Houston, providing further connection opportunities across the US and into other parts of the Americas. This month United Airlines will offer over 7,000 departures from George Bush Houston Intercontinental, accounting for 36.2 per cent of departures and 57.5 per cent of the seat capacity. When you include the activities of its regional partners this total increases to almost 17,000 departures with an 86.2 per cent share of flights and an 83.0 per cent share of capacity from the Texas facility.