Spanish national carrier Iberia is to bring forward the launch of its new Madrid – Shanghai service by four months to take advantage of summer demand on the route. The airline will now introduce the three times weekly link from June 28, 2016 rather than tentative October 2016 date it originally suggested when it first announced the new long-haul flight at the start of this year.
The Chinese city will become Iberia’s first Asian destination ahead of its previously announced launch of flights to Tokyo from October 18, 2016. This year the Spanish airline is also resuming services to Puerto Rico (from May 15, 2016) and to Johannesburg (from August 1, 2016), while its seasonal flights to Boston, previously offered from March to October, will operate through December this year.
However, there will be some long-haul cuts to the Iberia network, most notably into Africa where it will close flights to Nigeria from May 12, 2016 due to “the situation of the oil market”, and to Ghana from May 17, 2016 due to a “drop of demand and lack of profitability”. The airline has also temporarily suspended flights to Istanbul owing to a “steep decline in demand”.
The growth into Asia will bring a little geographical balance to the Iberia network. The airline is undergoing a transformation to reduce costs, improve productivity and efficiency, while simultaneously expanding its revenue base and changing its company culture. Iberia says that together these measures will allow it to start the routes to Asia in a profitable and sustainable way.
The number of Chinese citizens visiting Spain is growing continuously and Iberia hopes to stimulate further growth in one of the world’s most lucrative outbound market. Over the first nine month of 2015 Chinese visitor arrival into Spain were up 66 per cent versus the previous year, according to tourism data.
The Spanish carrier will deploy its new Airbus A330-200s on these two routes, a type that made its debut in the Iberia system at the start of this year. Its first of 13 examples it has on order was delivered on December 29, 2015 and entered operation on long-haul routes into the Americas at the start of this year. It now has a fleet of three of the type configured in a 288-seat, two-class arrangement with 19 Business and 269 Economy seats.
The new aircraft will directly replace the carrier’s older four-engined A340-300s, providing economic, environmental and service delivery benefits to the company. The more efficient two-engined aircraft have a much greater fuel economy than the A340-300s they will replace, a range of up to 13,400km as well as enhanced comfort and services for passengers.
According to MIDT data for the first half of 2015, an estimated 7,200 two-way passengers a day were flying between Spain and destinations across the Asia-Pacific region, despite the lack of non-stop flight options. Iberia’s two new Asian routes are among the top three markets in the region based on O&D demand, although it is Seoul, South Korea that leads the way, due in part to the existing flights of Korean Air between Madrid and Incheon.
Other significant markets with strong passenger flows to/from Spain but no current non-stop flights include Bangkok, Delhi, Osaka, Manila and Mumbai, while Beijing (currently served from Madrid by Air China), Hong Kong (served by Cathay Pacific from Madrid) and Singapore (served by Singapore Airlines from Barcelona), are also major markets.