The growing propensity for international travel from China continues to fuel the growth of the country’s aviation sector and is seeing many of the nation’s lesser-known carriers grow onto the long-haul stage. In recent years we have seen HNA Group subsidiaries Capital Airlines and Tianjin Airlines follow the more established Hainan Airlines into the European and North American markets and now Lucky Air is planning its own long-haul activities from Changshui International Airport in Kunming, the host of last year’s Routes Asia.
Lucky Air is among the members of the HNA Group’s U-FLY low-cost alliance and its rise into the intercontinental market could represent the arrival of a new breed of Chinese low-cost, long-haul operations. The airline has requested rights from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) to introduce flights from its Yunnan province base to both Los Angeles and Moscow.
According to the Chinese aviation regulator these two routes will be served twice weekly from Kunming and will be operated using new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner equipment acquired through HNA Group’s existing commitment. These aircraft are due for delivery imminently and subject to the awarding of licences, could see flights commence as early as the final quarter of this year.
Lucky Air plans to be the second carrier to launch long-haul flights from Kunming, adding to the existing services offered by China Eastern Airlines to Dubai, Paris and Vancouver. This was first revealed by Routesonline back in March 2015 when the Routes Asia forum was hosted at the Yunnan Haigeng Convention Centre.
Initially launched as Shilin Airlines in July 2004, the carrier was rebranded as Lucky Air in December 2005, inaugurating scheduled passenger operations under its new identity early the subsequent year from Kunming. Since then its main focus has been on the Yunnan region and linking it to the large volume markets across China, although it has also introduced a base at Chengdu’s Shuangliu International Airport in Sichuan Province.
However, speaking to Routesonline on the sidelines of the network development forum in 2015, senior executive said: “Our international aspirations will see us develop outside of China with a focus on destinations in South East, South and East Asia. We will introduce widebody aircraft within the next three years and these could be used to launch our first long-haul services. The international market from Yunnan is full of promise.”
The airline plans to more than double its current fleet of 28 short-haul Airbus and Boeing aircraft to around 70 units by the end of the decade with significant growth planned for this and next year, including the 787-9s for the planned December launch of these two new long-haul routes.
Lucky Air is not alone in requesting rights to serve long-haul markets from China and the latest update from CAAC of licence applications has seen requests from Air China to introduce a four times weekly link between Beijing and Warsaw; and Sichuan Airlines to launch a Chengdu – Zhengzhou routing on its Vancouver flights alongside its existing Chengdu – Shenyang offer and a three times weekly Chengdu – Auckland link.