Chinese carrier Tianjin Airlines is to introduce two additional Airbus A330-200s into its fleet this month as it accelerates its long-haul growth. The two aircraft will facilitate the launch of flights from Tianjin to Auckland, New Zealand, via Chongqing from December 21, 2016 and will also be used on the carrier’s existing Tianjin – Chongqing – London operation, launched in June 2016.
Speaking to Routesonline on the sidelines of the World Travel Market in London this week, Robert Chen, UK general manager for Tianjin Airlines confirmed that while the aircraft has the same 18 Business Class and 242 Economy seats of its existing A330-200, it will offer a better in-flight experience for customers with enhanced in-flight entertainment. “We expect the aircraft to enter our scheduled network from around December 10, 2016,” he confirmed.
The airline has seen robust traffic levels since it debuted in the London market with its twice weekly Tianjin – Chongqing – London Gatwick operation earlier this year, with “very strong loads of around 85%,” according to Chen, although he acknowledged that winter flying was already “proving a challenge” but it is working to rectify this with strong marketing and air fare promotions.
The success of the route has already influenced the carrier to introduce a third weekly rotation from summer 2017, while a second route linking Tianjin with London Gatwick via Xi’an, the capital of Shanxi province, will also commence from May 2017. One of the oldest cities in China and an ancient imperial capital of the country, Xi’an is home to the iconic Terracota Army, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Tianjin Airlines hopes the attractiveness of the destination and famous collection of thousands of terracotta sculptures of soldiers, chariots and horses, dating from the late third century BCE will entice visitors from the UK and help balance outbound and inbound demand flows on the new route.
“The number of UK visitors seeking visas for China is around 70,000 a year. This is not a small market in its own right, but it is when you consider there are around 600,000 applications to travel in the opposite direction,” said Chen. “Western China is also seeing strong economic growth so we are confident we can add to the leisure flows with business traffic.”
The airline is currently very happy serving Gatwick Airport, albeit like all long-haul carriers it would be open to a switch to Heathrow in the future. “Yes, Heathrow does interest us,” explained Chen, “but we are currently mainly targeting leisure traffic so Gatwick works really well for us in this instance.”
“We are proud to be helping introduce British travellers to our fascinating country through our high quality service and unbeatable flights. 2017 is going to be a very exciting year for us,” he added.
Tianjin currently has limited connectivity outside of Asia from Binhai International Airport, but is increasingly being seen as an alternative access point into China’s capital city, Beijing, which is just 120km away and a journey of just 35 minutes by high-speed train. With current capacity constraints at Capital International Airport, Chen firmly believes that the local network of Tianjin Airlines and its partners within the HNA Group could see the airport become more convenient to the busier Beijing Capital and Hong Kong International for transfer traffic.