Chinese carrier Tianjin Airlines will launch flights to the United Kingdom later this month, but it is already planning to move its flights between London airports. The airline, part of the HNA Group conglomerate, launches a twice weekly route linking Gatwick Airport to Chongqing and Tianjin from June 25, 2016. This will be the first direct scheduled links into the UK from the two fast-developing Chinese secondary cities.
Tianjin Airlines will become the latest of the country’s airlines to launch long-haul flights when it takes delivery of at least three Airbus A330-200s from the European manufacturer in the coming months. These aircraft will be used to debut flights into Europe and North America and alongside London will see the introduction of flights to Moscow, Russia and Vancouver, Canada.
The carrier has selected Gatwick for its London operations, but like other long-haul carriers that have been serving London, only sees it as a short-term step before it can secure access into the capacity-constrained Heathrow Airport.
Wen Ge, general manager of HR and the administration department for Tianjin Airlines, said there are no plans to link the London operation to other points in Europe, he does hope a move across the UK capital will be on the cards in the future.
“Currently there are no plans for connections from Gatwick to other parts of Europe or the UK. However, we are considering plans to open air routes from Heathrow following our Gatwick launch,” he said.
The HNA Group subsidiary has been allocated up to 20 A330-200s to support growth from Tianjin as an alternative to the capacity constrained Beijing Capital International Airport. The city in northern coastal China and one of the five national central cities of China and in terms of urban population is the fourth largest in China, after Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou. However, it is its location just 143km southeast of China’s capital with efficient high-speed rail access that adds to its appeal.
Tianjin Airlines will become the fourth Chinese carrier flying to London, following Air China, China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines. Fellow HNA Group carrier, Hainan Airlines has also operated a charter programme to Birmingham and will launch scheduled flights this summer, with the introduction of a scheduled Beijing-Manchester route from June 10, 2016.
The young carrier is little known outside of its home market and has just seven years of operation under its current brand. It was established in 2004 to bring together the regional activities of Hainan Airlines and the smaller China Xinhua Airlines, Chang An Airlines and Shanxi Airlines and received its operating certificate from CAAC in 2007. It initially launched as Grand China Express Air, at the time the largest regional carrier in China, but was rebranded as Tianjin Airlines in June 2009.
This has meant the airline has entered the long-haul market with a competitive offer. In London single promotional air fares were released for the inaugural flight from just £7 plus taxes, rising to form £9 plus taxes for the second departure.
“For the launch we are attracting passengers with a low price but as we continue to improve our service the prices will go up. However, after we raise the prices we will still be more than £50 cheaper than our competitors,” said Wen. He added that he expected the passenger split on the new route to be 40 percent business travellers, 40 percent tourists and 20 percent overseas students.