Hainan Airlines this week becomes the fifth Chinese airline to provide Sydney’s business travellers with direct flights into China, with the first of its thrice-weekly flights from Sydney to Shenzhen and onto Hangzhou.
This is the first time these two Chinese cities have been served by direct flights from Australia.
Hainan Airlines join Chinese airlines Air China, China Eastern and China Southern – along with Cathay Pacific, Qantas and Virgin Atlantic – in operating flights from Sydney to China.
However it will be the only airline with direct flights to the boomtown of Shenzhen, located across the border from Hong Kong, is southern China’s major financial hub and the epicentre of China’s high-tech and manufacturing industries in the lucrative Pearl River Delta.
The main alternative to date has been for travellers to fly into Hong Kong and then cross the border into China. The direct flight will not only save time but halve the number of customs and immigration checks compared to a Sydney-HK-China flight.
“Having direct access to a city like Shenzen is very important for business travellers” the CEO of Sydney Airport, Russell Balding, told Australian Business Traveller. “When businesspeople look to travel they look for a direct route. They get their quicker and arrive more refreshed, instead of being laid over in a hub.”
Balding will also be encouraging Hainan Airlines to boost the service to a daily status. “I’ll be talking to Hainan Airlines to see when the opportunity will be to move from three times a week to daily” he says. “From a business perspective you’re always looking for daily flights, rather than having to lay over in a city for 24 or 48 hours longer than you need to.”
Balding believes that more flights and more Chinese carriers will enter our market as the Australian authorities loosen up air rights limits which cap seats and traffic.
“Hainan Airlines were concerned in getting sufficient air rights and seats into Australia” he told Australian Business Traveller. “Both the Chinese and Australian governments will I believe negotiate additional air rights soon. The Chinese carriers are right at the upper end of their level of entitlement while the Australian carriers have not taken up their full level of entitlement.”
The Hainan Airlines service will also provide travellers access to Hangzhou – located 180 km southwest of Shanghai and the capital of economic powerhouse Zhejiang province – with an alternative to the current Sydney-Shanghai-Hangzhou shuffle (or, if you fly Jetstar, the two-leg Sydney-Singapore-Hangzhou route which commences from March 22).
Flights from Sydney will depart every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday at 10.10am, arriving at Shenzhen at 4.20pm. The service will then continue to Hangzhou for a 7.50pm arrival.
Return flights will take place on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday – departing Hangzhou at 3.55pm, departing Shenzhen at 6pm and arriving in Sydney at 7.40am the next day.
The service will run on Hainan’s Airbus A330-200 with 36 business class seats (in a comfortable 2-2-2 configuration) and 186 economy seats (in the more common 2-4-2 layout).
The business class seats sport a generous 74 inch pitch – just six inches short of the business class legroom on Qantas’ Airbus A380 – and recline fully flat to 180 degrees, while the cabin’s gallery includes an espresso machine.
Hainan Airlines is China’s largest privately-owned air transport company and has the country’s fourth-largest fleet, and this month became the first Chinese carrier to be rated as a five-star airline by research firm Skytrax.
Hainan joins just six other airlines in the top ranking: Asiana, Cathay Pacific, Kingfisher, Malaysia Airlines, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines (despite Hainan Airlines being the only one of this select group without a first class cabin).
Hainan is also looking to join one of the three global airline alliances. OneWorld is said to be the most likely choice, as it’s the only alliance without a mainland Chinese partner.
That's all part of a major push into the A league by Hainan Airlines, and that includes a standing order for eight Boeing 787 Dreamliners at US$185m a piece. But with the order still standing, because the aircraft's manufacturing line is doing the same, Hianan plans to seek compensation from Boeing for the 787's repeated delays, with Hainan Airlines Chairman Chen Feng observing that "our development plan is seriously affected by the 787's continuous delays."