Air China and China Eastern Boost London Presence

Air China will introduce a second daily rotation on its route between Beijing and London Heathrow from October 26, 2014, while China Eastern will boost its existing Shanghai route to the UK's largest international air gateway from October 29, 2014 with a sixth weekly flight.

Air China and China Eastern Airlines have both secured new winter slots at London’s Heathrow Airport which will enable them to increase the frequency of their routes from into mainland China. Air China will introduce a second daily rotation on the route from Beijing from October 26, 2014, while China Eastern will boost its existing Shanghai route from October 29, 2014 with a sixth weekly flight.

The second Air China rotation will likely replace the carrier’s summer operation to London’s Gatwick Airport, which was introduced in May 2012 after the carrier failed in a previous attempt to secure additional slots at Heathrow. This was originally operated as a year-round service on a four times weekly schedule but reverted to a seasonal offering in 2013.

Ahead of the launch of the Gatwick service an Air China executive confirmed to The HUB that the decision to split its London operations was a necessity to meet the strong demand on the route, but that Heathrow was always its primary growth target.

“We fully intend to expand in the UK and increase our presence there but unfortunately we can’t do it at Heathrow. Our daily Beijing flight to Heathrow has load factors of over 90% - it’s ridiculously full. But adding capacity at Heathrow is out of the question and we have actually been agonising over this issue for a long time,” Dr Zhihang Chi, vice president and general manager North America, Air China explained during an interview for Routes Asia in Chengdu in April 2012.

“We have decided that the best option is to run split operations and to go to Gatwick for additional frequency. This is not necessarily a good thing but we don’t have a choice as we want to expand. Heathrow offers better connection options and we will now have to invest in two sets of staff and equipment,” he added.

The new twice daily offering from this winter will see Air China switch its existing rotation from a Boeing 777-300ER to an Airbus A330-300 and will see both flights operate with the smaller widebody within two hours of each other. The existing CA937/938 rotation will move forward a couple of hours to a slot time utilised previously by the carrier with the new CA855/856 flight operating to the current schedule.

The change of equipment will mean the removal of a First Class product on the route, although it is likely that the 777-300ERs could return in the summer 2015 schedule on at least one of the two rotations. The introduction of the second rotation will boost Air China’s capacity on the Beijing – London Heathrow route by 61.4 per cent with a loss of eight First Class seats but an increase of 30 Business Class and 169 Economy seats per day.

Meanwhile, China Eastern Airlines has confirmed it will add a new Wednesday flight on its route between Shanghai and London Heathrow from the start of the winter 2014/2015 schedules, flown by an A330-200. The additional flight will bring an earlier rotation with a late morning departure from Shanghai and early evening departure from London.

China Eastern this year celebrated ten years of first serving the UK market after inaugurating flights on the route in April 2004, initially using an A340-300. The operating aircraft was switched to the smaller, but more efficient, A330-200 in February 2009 but the route was suspended the following month, resuming one year later in March 2010.

In our analysis, below, we highlight O&D demand between China and the UK in 2013 by departure or arrival point in China. 

Data provided by Sabre

Schedules from Airline Route:

Air China: Beijing – London Heathrow
CA937 PEK1230 – 1555LHR 330 D
CA855 PEK1430 – 1750LHR 330 D
CA938 LHR1740 – 1200+1PEK 330 D
CA856 LHR2020 – 1440+1PEK 330 D

China Eastern: Shanghai – London Heathrow
MU551 PVG1055 – 1605LHR 332 3
MU551 PVG1230 – 1725LHR 332 5
MU551 PVG1230 – 1740LHR 332 247
MU551 PVG1230 – 1750LHR 332 6
MU552 LHR1755 – 1325+1PVG 332 3
MU552 LHR2100 – 1630+1PVG 332 x135
MU552 LHR2230 – 1800+1PVG 332 5

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