United Increases Service to China

US major, United Airlines is to operate additional flights to Shanghai and Chengdu from the airline’s hub in San Francisco, during the peak summer travel season. The announcement comes in the same week as a report by OAG, which considers a China-US open skies agreement.

The current daily service between San Francisco and Shanghai will increase to two daily flights from May 6 to October 24, 2015, and will be operated using Boeing 777-200 aircraft, featuring a total of 269 seats.

The three-times-weekly service between the US airport and Chengdu will increase to a daily service from June 4, to September 1, 2015, operated with Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft, featuring a total of 219 seats.

Read the full report on United's service increases on our sister blog, Airline Route here

Earlier this year, United launched the Chengdu service with three-times-weekly Boeing 787 flights from San Francisco, the first-ever nonstop trans-Pacific service to mainland China beyond Beijing and Shanghai.

United started nonstop service to China in 1986 and today serves Beijing with nonstop flights from Chicago, New York/Newark, San Francisco and Washington/Dulles; Shanghai with nonstop flights from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York/Newark and San Francisco; and Hong Kong with nonstop flights from Chicago, New York/Newark, San Francisco, Guam, Singapore and Ho Chi Minh City. 

Is it time for China-US Open Skies?

With this in mind, a recent report by OAG suggests it could be time for China/US open skies. Each nation has four carriers, operating a total of 24 routes between China and the US, with total capacity fairly evenly split between the carriers.

Although the China-US Air Service Agreement has been amended on numerous occasions, it continues to exert a high degree of regulatory control over routes operated by airlines from both countries, limiting the amount of flights permitted.

In 2014, US and Chinese carriers operated the equivalent of an average of 400 weekly frequencies, claims the report released this week by aviation information specialists, OAG.

Of the 5.7 million passengers travelling between the two countries between January and September 2014, there were three million departures from Chinese airports and 2.7 million from US airports, the report stated. However, of the three million Chinese passengers, only 76 percent started their journey at Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK), Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG) or Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN).

Therefore, with only 6 percent of the Chinese population living in Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou, just 24 percent used a domestic connecting flight to access the Chinese gateway airport.

The discussion comes after the US President, Barack Obama announced changes to the students, business and tourist visa programmes for visitors from China. Student visas have been extended to five years, while business and tourist visas have been extended to ten years, significantly reducing cost and time incurred in the process of obtaining visas.

Similar to the trade markets between the two countries, the market for air travel is equally as sizeable. In September 2014, two-way passengers between China and the US reached 540,000 passengers, a 27 percent increase on the previous year, said the report.

“United has the most extensive trans-Pacific route network of any U.S. airline. These new flights will further strengthen United's presence in the region and will offer our customers unparalleled choice and convenience when travelling to China this summer.”

Jake Cefolia
United's vice president for Atlantic and Pacific sales

However, there are only 24 airport pairs with non-stop air services between the two nations. The OAG Traffic Analyser shows that over 12 months between September 2013 and September 2014, passengers used one of 56,000 non-identical routings for travel between their departure airport and China or the US and their destination airport to either country. Many passengers are connecting via airports in third countries to complete their journey.

Airline capacity has attempted to keep pace with the growth in traffic between China and the US, with a 22 percent increase in scheduled frequencies between China and the US in comparison to 2013.

According to the OAG report, there were 20,811 flights operated by Chinese and US carriers between the two countries in 2014, of which the US operated 54 percent, and China the remaining 46 percent.

So what could fewer restrictions deliver? According to the report by OAG, a new route between New York and Fuzhou could be introduced, with Fuzhou as the major coastal city between Hong King and Shanghai. In September 2014, the New York and Fuzhou city pair was four of the top seven unserved markets between China and the US including JFK – HKG – FOC, JFK – PEK – FOC, JFK – PVG – FOC and EWR – HKG – FOC.

A total of 80,000 annual customers connected via Hong Kong, Beijing or Shanghai, equivalent to 226 passengers daily, according to the report by OAG.

Alternatively to open skies, airlines could use larger aircraft on permitted routes to meet demand growth, although none of the US or Chinese airlines permitted have A380 aircraft on order – the easiest and quickest way to add capacity. So is now the time to seriously consider a China-US open skies agreement? Let us know what you think by voting in our poll.