Busy Chengdu skies
China’s major airlines swarm to Sichuan’s provincial capital for bigger market stakes
Published: Sep 14, 2017 05:38 PM

Passengers wait for flights at Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport. Photo: VCG


Chengdu, capital of Southwest China's Sichuan Province, has become one of the most attractive and important hubs for domestic airlines, as they look to expand in one of the country's most vibrant and promising regions.

China Southern Airlines became the latest among China's major airlines to officially open up a local Chengdu branch this week.

Media reported that China Southern said it will launch express routes from Chengdu to Beijing as well as to Guangzhou and Shenzhen, both in South China's Guangdong Province.

In addition, China Southern plans to launch several routes within Sichuan or the broader southwestern region, including one to Lhasa, capital of Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region.

Flocking to Chengdu

The Guangzhou-based carrier is not the only airline that has its eyes on Chengdu and its broader region. Other main carriers, including Air China, Hainan Airlines and China Eastern Airlines have already set up their hub operations in Chengdu.

Air China, China Southern and China Eastern set up their local branches in the city, while Hainan Airlines registered a brand-new airline in the city.

In addition, several smaller airlines have also set up bases in Chengdu, including Shenzhen Airlines, Lucky Air and Tibet Airlines.

Adding in local carriers like Sichuan Airlines and Chengdu Airlines, Chengdu has become one of the Chinese cities hosting all the major airlines as well as the hub for the largest number of airlines.

China Southern has vowed to increase its input in Chengdu, such as by increasing the number of aircraft to more than 40 by 2020 and by committing to building a global network based in the city.

In comparison, Air China has nearly 100 aircraft in Chengdu and local Sichuan Airlines runs more than 110.

On Monday, HNA Group, the parent of Hainan Airlines, signed a deal with the Chengdu government by setting up a "city partners" strategy.

In March, Hainan Airlines opened a route from Chengdu to Los Angles, and plans to open a route from Chengdu to New York City this year.

By the end of August this year, the carriers under HNA group had transported nearly 2.84 million passengers in Sichuan.

Reasons behind the trend

One of the reasons behind the companies' flocking to Chengdu is the important location of the city, which is the gateway to the country's vast southwestern region.

After years of development, Chengdu has reached many milestone moments.

In the first half of this year, the GDP of Chengdu stood at 611.14 billion yuan ($93.45 billion), ranking at second after Guangzhou among all the provincial capital cities in China.

Another milestone was the start of the construction of the second airport in Chengdu. How to allocate transport capacity in the new airport is now on the agenda for the big airlines.

To shunt passenger flow pressure off the current airport, the Chengdu government started the construction of a new airport named Chengdu Tianfu International Airport. Upon its completion in 2020, the new airport will bring an additional annual turnover of 40 million passengers. The total passenger flow in the city by then will be well over 80 million.

Last year, the passenger flow in the Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport breached 46 million, ranking just below that of Beijing's, Shanghai's and Guangzhou's international airports.

Although the new airport in Chengdu is far from just downtown, the local government said the city will build a convenient railway line to it from the city to shorten travel time.

In this way, Chengdu will be the third city in China after Shanghai and Beijing to have double airports.

Beijing will also have two airports in the coming years and some airlines already have ambitions to operate in both.

Currently, it is unclear if China's four chief carriers - Air China, China Southern, China Eastern and Hainan Airlines - will keep their operation in Chengdu's original airport, but what is clear is that some airlines have started to pursue the city's two airports. Undoubtedly, more competition in the region is on the horizon.