Tibet Airlines will expand into the European market later this year after receiving the green light from the Civil Administration of China (CAAC) to inaugurate flights linking two Chinese cities with Sochi International Airport in Russia.
The airline, a subsidiary of Air China, revealed at World Routes that it will introduce a daily link from Sanya, the Chinese beach resort in Hainan province, via Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province and host city for the route development forum, to the Black Sea resort from next year.
The flights will be operated by the carrier’s recently introduced 279-seat Airbus A330-200 widebody aircraft which is configured in a three-class cabin layout (12 business, 32 premium economy, 235 economy).The increased 242 tonne maximum take-off-weight (MTOW) variant was handed-over on June 30, 2016 and is suited to flying from the most demanding high altitude airports where take off performance, additional range and improved operating costs are key, such as at Tibet Airlines’ main hub, Lhasa Gonggar Airport.
Since its delivery, it has initially been used to substitute smaller A319 and A320 equipment on internal flights within China operating between Lhasa in the Tibet Autonomous Region, the carrier’s secondary base at Shuangliu International Airport and Capital International Airport in Beijing.
“The A330 Family will become our core widebody to be deployed on our new international routes thanks to its flexibility, comfort and efficiency,” Bai Weisan, president, Tibet Airlines at the delivery ceremony for the aircraft this summer.
The addition of a regular link to China has been top of the wishlist for Basel Aero, which controls Sochi International Airport as part of its airport management portfolio and will help it boost international traffic in what has been a difficult period in the Russian aviation sector.
The industry has been under a transformation following the collapse of its second-largest carrier, Transaero, the devaluation of the national currency together and the suspension of flights to Egypt and Turkey. But while this has impacted international demand it has helped boost domestic traffic with more and more tourists heading to local Russian resorts, including Sochi on the Black Sea coast.
“Despite a deepening economic downturn in Russia, airports in southern cities of Krasnodar, Sochi, Anapa and Gelendzhik have seen a significant growth in passenger numbers,” confirms Leonid Sergeyev, chief executive officer, Basel Aero.
The operator is also understood to be in the final stages of discussions with other Chinese operators such as Sichuan Airlines and Urumqi Air to establish additional links from China, including a regular Urumqi – Sochi link. However, its overall goal is to use these route to highlight the potential for securing a link into one China’s major hubs.
The Sanya-Chengdu-Sochi route marks Tibet Airlines’ second international route, following the launch of a three times weekly connection between Changdu and Koh Samui in Thailand from July 1, 2016. The route was introduced to support increasing travel demand into Thailand, with the country being the number one international destination for people from Chengdu and its surrounding areas in west China.
Tibet Airlines commenced operations in July 2011 and currently operates 16 Airbus A320 Family single-aisle jets on domestic routes to major Chinese cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Hangzhou and Nanjing. It is understood to be exploring further international expansion into South Asia, Southeast Asia and Europe as it prepares to add additional A320s and A330s to its fleet.