Airline competition is heating up on the Vancouver-to-mainland China route.
Direct flights between the two locations will be up 50% this summer compared with summer 2012, as each of the five airlines that service the route increases frequency.
Many of the 54 weekly flights are seasonal and expected to end sometime this fall.
But China Southern Airlines has seen such success with its direct flights to Guangzhou that on June 18 it permanently increased flight frequency to once per day, up from thrice weekly.
China Eastern Airlines bumped its flights up to 13 per week from daily on June 21.
It plans to add a 14th weekly flight in mid-July.
The airline has yet to specify when the twice-daily flights will end, so they could become permanent if demand is strong.
Other increases for the peak summer season include:
•Air China adding four flights each week between Vancouver and Beijing for a total of 11 weekly flights;
•Sichuan Airlines adding an extra flight throughout August for a total of four flights per week to Shenyang; and
•Air Canada adding four flights each week between Vancouver and Beijing for a total of 11 weekly flights.
Air Canada flies daily to Shanghai from Vancouver and has no plans to increase that frequency.
Last summer, when airlines added flights, there were 36 between Vancouver and mainland China.
China Southern general manager Kitty Cheng told Business in Vancouver that her airline’s Vancouver flights were more than 85% full year-round and that, during peak summer months, economy sections of those planes are more than 100% booked.
She said that extra passengers are upgraded to premium economy class, which is more than 70% booked, or even to business class, which is normally approximately 50% full.
“People coming to Canada from Guangzhao no longer have to go to Beijing first and then come over. They can come direct from Southern China. This opened up a very big market, and we opened it up two years ago.”
China Southern’s success is even more impressive given that it flies Boeing 777-200 ER planes, which hold 278 passengers. That’s 46 more than the capacity of the Airbus 320 Es that China Eastern uses on its direct flights to Shanghai.
China Southern uses the larger planes on its flights to Guangzhou because it’s further from Vancouver than either Beijing or Shanghai and beyond the flight range of smaller planes.
Air Canada’s increased flights to China are not limited to Vancouver. Canada’s national carrier is also increasing its Toronto-to-Beijing flights to 10 per week. That’s up from once per day.
“We deploy aircraft where we see demand,” Air Canada spokeswoman Angela Mah told BIV.
“There was a focus on Asia and particularly on China this summer.” •