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Chinese airlines accelerate their return to Spain due to the Russian veto on European airlines

Date: October 1, 2023 Time: 14:43:24

Although foreign tourism data still shows weak figures in terms of the return of Asian visitors to Spain, the forecasts of foreign airlines and the first statistics suggest that the situation will change substantially with the arrival of summer. The reopening of borders approved by the government of Xi Jinping is expected like rain in May in the Spanish tourism industry, which has taken advantage of the pandemic to shift towards a higher quality and cost model that attracts ‘premium’ tourists, with an eye on Asians.

But not only Spanish hoteliers and restaurateurs rub their hands before the arrival of Chinese, Korean or Japanese. Chinese airlines are taking advantage of Russia’s veto on European airlines to progressively enable the planes that are stopped and speed up the recovery of their routes. Their European counterparts cannot fly over their airspace due to the conflict in Ukraine, so alternative routes between the two continents imply a substantial increase in costs, both in terms of kerosene and personnel.

This veto is deactivated for companies such as Iberia, which has not been able to restore its usual routes due to competitive disadvantages, standing at capacity levels of 33% compared to 2019, according to the IAG CEO, Luis Gallego. The alternative to flying over Russia to reach their Asian destinations (South Korea, China, Japan or Vietnam) are 14 or 15 hour flights, journeys for which only the Airbus A350s in their fleet have sufficient autonomy. Among the destinations pending recovery are Shanghai Pudong and Tokyo Narita, routes provided with 3 and 4 weekly flights, respectively.

Barajas leads the recovery

Eurocontrol data shows how passenger flows between Europe and Asia-Pacific continue to lag, with 16% fewer scheduled flights than there were in 2019 at this point. European airports registered 172 daily flights with China and Hong Kong in the last week of April, out of a total of 669 operators to the main Asian airports, and there is still a long way to go to recover normal relations with the Eastern market. But this evolution is being uneven at the European level. In the case of Spain, the Barajas airport shows a clear trend that invites optimism, with an almost complete recovery of pre-pandemic flights, and even with new routes and frequencies scheduled for the summer season.

The state airline Air China is in charge of uniting its capital, Beijing, with the Spanish one, and despite the pandemic and the closure of borders, it did not stop operating at any time, maintaining one flight a week. The announcement of the end of the restrictions last January allowed them to recover the three weekly frequencies with load factors of up to 60% of the passengers. Given the arrival of good weather, they hope to increase a fourth from June with a view to reaching the fifth by the end of the year.

The one that was suspended was the route from Madrid to the Chinese financial center, Shanghai, which had the honor of being the destination par excellence on the Spain-China routes, with up to 10 weekly flights. The China Eastern company will recover this route on June 20 with 5 weekly frequencies that they hope to maintain after the summer. The last to join these intercontinental connections has been Korean Air, which at the end of April recovered its route between Madrid and Seoul Incheon with three weekly flights, the same as in 2019.

Another route that is showing better performance is the one between Madrid and Hong Kong, served by Cathay Pacific, which is registering capacity levels of over 95%. Before the arrival of the covid, they operated a daily flight (5 weekly in winter), but after the covid and the subsequent reopening, they recovered the route with only one weekly flight on October 1. Given its success, they will increase the frequency to two flights per week in January, and hope to increase to three in June, with a view to even recovering a fourth frequency in November.

New destinations… and others still pending

The pandemic also opened up new opportunities for Spanish travelers. Chongqing became a new destination operated by Hainan Airlines since last summer with a weekly flight. Despite the fact that the Chinese restrictions weighed down its occupancy level to a low 50%, in recent weeks it has increased its number of passengers to around 80%, a fact that in March allowed them to open a second frequency.

Although Barajas’s forecasts invite optimism, there will still be many routes to recover: Xi’an (China Eastern), Hangzhou and Chengdu (Beijing Capital Airlines), Shenzhen (Hainan Airlines), the Indian city of Delhi (Air India, with up to 5 weekly flights) and those already mentioned from Iberia.

On the opposite side of the Madrid aerodrome is Barcelona-El Prat, where the lack of available capacity makes it difficult to recover slots or open new destinations. Before the pandemic, the Catalan airport offered daily flights to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific; while Air China alternated a daily flight to Beijing or Shanghai (3 or 4 weekly frequencies). Only this second has chosen to recover its flights to the capital of the Asian giant, with three weekly frequencies from July 2023.

Puck Henry
Puck Henry
Puck Henry is an editor for ePrimefeed covering all types of news.

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