China and the UK have signed a new deal that will see the number of weekly flights allowed between the two countries increase by 50 per cent, opening the way for new and enhanced routes particularly to and from airports outside of London.
The new deal will see the total number of permissible flights between the two countries rise to 150 from 100, adding to a previous deal made in 2016 that raised the number from 40 to 100. In the first half of 2017, the UK saw 115,000 visits by travellers from China, an increase of about 47 per cent on the same period in 2016.
According to the UK’s Department for Transport, the deal makes it possible for “a huge expansion in routes”, especially from regional airports, and is expected to bring in significant economic benefits.
A recent report by economic consultancy Steer Davies Gleeve has revealed a number of direct economic benefits since the June 2016 launch of Hainan Airlines’ Beijing-Manchester route. For example, UK export values from Manchester Airport have increased by 265 per cent and travellers from the north of the UK to China have also increased by about 40 per cent since the route’s launch.
“Our connections to both Beijing and Hong Kong have led to significantly higher volumes of exports and inward investment, while the North’s universities have benefited from increased international student numbers and research collaborations with Chinese institutions,” said Manchester Airport’s CEO, Andrew Cowan. “Importantly, the routes have stimulated brand new demand for travel between the UK and China, which among other things has delivered a huge boost to the visitor economy across the North.”
The airport added that it “continues to speak with airlines about the launch of new services to additional Chinese cities”, though it has not specified which destinations are currently being discussed.
According to the UK’s Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, the opening of new routes between the two countries is particularly significant against the backdrop of Britain’s exit from the European Union. “These agreements are an important part of preparing Britain for a post-Brexit world and making sure we have access to key markets in the Far East, and they come at a time when our exports are growing and we continue to attract international investment,” he said.
The agreement is likely to favour Chinese airlines in particular, which are able to leverage their domestic networks to feed travellers from across China onto their long-haul services. Earlier this year, Hainan Airlines began flying its flagship Boeing 787 Dreamliner on its Manchester flights following the addition of a new daily service.
Meanwhile Skyteam member China Southern, the country’s largest airline by fleet size, increased its service between London Heathrow and its main hub in Guangzhou, just across the border from Hong Kong, to twice a day in June.
By contrast, non-Chinese carriers have encountered mixed success when opening new routes to mainland China, particularly to the country’s secondary cities. As of January this year, British Airways ceased flying its Heathrow-Chengdu route, which it had operated for about three years, due to it no longer being commercially viable.
Asked whether the new agreement would open the way for new flights to China, British Airways provided Business Traveller with the following response: “We’re proud to operate a daily service from Beijing and 10 flights a week from Shanghai to London, and are always assessing opportunities to develop our network”.
The potential addition of new non-stop flights between the UK and mainland China could also put pressure on Hong Kong’s flag carrier, Cathay Pacific, which acts as a hub connecting China with the rest of the world and has faced increased competition from mainland Chinese airlines in recent years. Though it too increased its non-stop service between Manchester and Hong Kong to a daily operation earlier this month.