The air service development and marketing teams at Manchester Airport could certainly be celebrating the next Chinese New Year with renewed enthusiasm after news that Chinese authorities at the Air Transportation Department of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) have this week approved Air China’s request to launch flights between Shanghai and Manchester from next year. This follows just a month after Hainan Airlines confirmed plans to link the UK city with Beijing with a four times weekly service from June 2016.
Air China earlier this month made an official request to CAAC for rights to serve the route, its first UK market outside of London, according to information released by the aviation regulator on its website. After a short period seeking formal replies to the request, sources now claim an official ruling has now been taken granting the application and the airline will now seek to finalise a commercial deal with Manchester Airport.
It is understood that Air China plans to inaugurate a four times weekly schedule between Shanghai and Manchester from as early as March 25, 2016 with reservations opening at some point in the middle of January. A tentative schedule shows the aircraft, an Airbus A330-200, departing Shanghai mid-morning on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and arriving in Manchester early evening. The return flight according to this schedule will depart the UK late evening, arriving back in Shanghai the following afternoon, however this is all subject to change.
Air China currently offers flights between Shanghai and four points in Europe: Paris in France; Frankfurt and Munich in Germany; and Milan in Italy. Alongside the Manchester route it is also seeking rights to introduce flights between Shanghai and Barcelona, Spain and between the Chinese city of Chongqing and Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.
“After what has been a phenomenal year of Manchester forging ties with the Far East, we understand that Air China has applied for a route to Shanghai, which is the first stage of a very long process,” said a spokesman for Manchester Airport.
“As always we continue to discuss and progress the commercial case for a wide range of airlines to connect Manchester to key strategic markets across the globe, and as and when these are confirmed, we would announce accordingly,” he added.
The new Shanghai link will bring further significant economic benefits to the city of Manchester, the wider North West UK region and the whole of the UK. The new Beijing route is reported to be worth at least £250 million in economic benefits to the UK over the next decade, with two-thirds being felt directly in the Northern economy in terms of increased jobs, economic activity and tourism. By providing a non-stop service, the new route also generates journey time savings worth £5 million every year for business passengers and avoids the inconvenience of changing planes at another airport.
The introduction of the scheduled links from Manchester to mainland China have been under discussion for a long time to support the growing numbers of passengers travelling each year between the two countries. Manchester Airport will become the only UK airport outside of London to offer direct scheduled services to Mainland China, albeit Birmingham has offered a summer charter programme to the Chinese capital over the past two years - last year with China Southern Airlines and this year with Hainan Airlines.
MIDT data from Sabre shows an estimated market of around 135,000 O&D passengers a year between Manchester and China, although the real market size will be notably higher when you include ground leakage to London for the existing non-stop flights to the Chinese cities of Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Shanghai. When you add the obvious stimulation a new direct flight can add then you could realistically see a market of around 200,000 passengers, which will grow year-on-year.
Our analysis shows that Shanghai overtook Beijing as the largest O&D market for passengers between China and Manchester last year with an estimated annual demand of 50,000 and a 34.6 per cent share of the annual demand in 2014.
The majority of the Chinese demand to and from Manchester is currently satisfied via Emirates Airline and its Dubai International Airport hub, but there are also annual flows of more than 10,000 passengers per annum with KLM via Amsterdam; Air France via Paris; China Southern Airlines via Amsterdam, Paris and Istanbul; Finnair via Helsinki; Qatar Airways via Doha; and Lufthansa via Frankfurt and Munich.