Air China becomes first Asian carrier to serve Cuba as it extends its network to Havana

Cuba is a strategically important destination for the Chinese government as it was the first Latin American country to recognise the People’s Republic of China and to establish trade relations and China is currently Cuba’s second largest trading partner after Venezuela with bilateral trade of bilateral of over $1.3 billion in 2014.

Air China will introduce a three times weekly service between Montreal and Havana in Cuba during the last week of this year after securing fifth freedom traffic rights to serve the market as an extension of its recently launched route to the Canadian city from Beijing. The link, the first by an Asian carrier into Cuba, will start from December 27, 2015 and will be flown using a Boeing 777-300ER.

It has always been Air China’s intention to introduce the Caribbean tag to this transpacific flight, which was launched on September 29, 2015 and is the sole direct link between Asia and Montreal. The city pair is served through a joint business agreement between Star Alliance partners Air China and Air Canada, with the latter placing its code on the flights for sale under a codeshare basis in a first phase.

In the second phase, subject to requisite approvals by the relevant competition authorities, Air Canada and Air China intend to form a comprehensive revenue sharing joint venture in respect of all flights between China and Canada, which they say “would ensure the long-term sustainability of the new Beijing-Montreal service”.

Air China and Air Canada signed an initial memorandum of understanding in November 2014 setting out the principles for an integrated revenue sharing joint venture. The agreement provides for an enhanced partnership on routes between China and Canada which is expected to stimulate traffic growth between the two countries.

Cuba is a strategically important destination for the Chinese government as it was the first Latin American country to recognise the People’s Republic of China and to establish trade relations and China is currently Cuba’s second largest trading partner after Venezuela.

Last month marks the 55th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Beijing and Havana and although there were little substantive contacts between China and Cuba during the period of Cold War, growing interaction has been taking place since the 1990s, particularly through high-level state visits.

Then-Chinese President Jiang Zemin went to Cuba in 1993 and 2001; his successor, Hu Jintao, visited in 2004. Fidel Castro, who served as Cuba’s president from 1976-2008 (and as prime minister from 1959-1976) visited China in 1995 and 2003. His brother Raul, who succeeded Fidel as president, made his own trip to China in 2012, while current Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Cuba in July 2014, part of a broader tour of Latin America.

China and Cuba’s overall bilateral trade had grown to over $1.3 billion in 2014, with over $1 billion of that made up of Chinese exports to Cuba (mainly mechanical consumer goods, such as refrigerators, buses, and pick-up trucks, according to China’s Foreign Ministry).


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