British Airways will continue to focus on its agreements with other carriers rather than opening up new routes to mainland China, CEO Alex Cruz said at a media roundtable on Tuesday.
“We cannot be a major player on the international stage and connect Britain to the world and not have a bigger presence [in China],” said Cruz.
“So far we’re doing it via partners. Finnair is able to connect Helsinki with many more points, and of course with Cathay Pacific in Hong Kong and codeshare agreements we’ve signed with both China Eastern and China Southern.”
In December last year, the UK and Chinese governments signed an agreement that would see the number of weekly flights permitted between the two countries increase from 100 to 150, with a particular emphasis on connecting secondary hubs in the UK with destinations in China.
“Chinese carriers are growing very fast and it’s incredible the number of destinations that are being opened all across Europe. We are benefiting together with some of our partnerships on that and we feed some of those airlines, at Heathrow for example. So we will be part of that picture.”
The UK’s flag carrier has struggled in the past with some routes into mainland China, notably its non-stop flights between London and Chengdu, which it was forced to cut in 2016.
“We have been learning a great deal over the past few years and Chengdu was a really good learning experience for us,” said Cruz. “We formed a very tight relationship with the airport and local authorities, who guided us for a period of just over three years while we had the route. Ultimately, we made the decision [to drop the route] together.”
However, Cruz hasn’t ruled out the UK’s flag carrier launching new routes to China in the future, though he refrained from specifying particular routes.
“Will British Airways have a stronger presence in China in the future? The answer is categorically yes. Are we able to provide you with details including timing, airplanes, frequencies and destinations? No.”
As for whether these routes would likely originate from its hub in London or secondary cities within the UK, Cruz said it was “more than likely” that it would be the country’s capital.
Cruz also said that Greater China could also see more A380 aircraft in the future, including a second daily A380 service to Hong Kong as well as Beijing and Shanghai, though this would be dependent upon the airline purchasing additional aircraft.
Currently, British Airways has 12 of the superjumbos in its fleet and the carrier is openly exploring the possibility of bringing more on board.
“I wouldn’t rule out more A380s in our fleet in the future, but we haven’t been able to find the right agreement. Everybody knows we’re in the market.”