China’s airlines upgrade cabins to increase their international competitiveness

The prospect of an airline from Mainland China joining the top 10 ranks of the Skytrax world’s best airlines list may not sound that far off, if one takes into account that the ranking is dominated by Asian carriers, including ‘Chinese’ carriers such as Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines. Airlines from China still have some way to go to improve their international competitiveness, but two of China’s largest airlines, China Southern and Air China, have recently embarked on major upgrade programs. Meanwhile, Hainan Airlines, China’s fourth largest airline group, recently has been awarded a 5-star status by Skytrax (although this status can be debated).

Air China
Air China is China’s flag carrier and third largest airline, as well as the world’s most profitable and largest carrier by market value. The airline’s major hubs are Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Chengdu and as of December 2010 the Star Alliance-member operated flights to 47 international and 91 domestic cities with a fleet of 393 aircraft. Compared with China’s other major carriers, China Southern and China Eastern, Air China leads in terms of international destinations, which make up 50 percent of its routes, followed by China Eastern (30%) and China Southern Airlines (25%). Air China holds interests in Cathay Pacific (29.99%), Air Macau (80.9%), Shenzhen Airlines (51%) and Shandong Airlines.

Cabin revitalisation programme
In mid-July, Air China took delivery of its first Boeing 777-300ER, which features the carrier’s new premium products, including 180-degree flat bed seats in business (2:2:2 configuration) and first class (1:2:1 configuration) and a self-service bar, located between First and Business. The seats in Air China’s ‘Forbidden Pavilion’ First Class are Contour’s ‘Venus’ seating product with sliding privacy screens for centre seats and an adjustable ottoman that provides a seat for a guest as well as extra stowage. More images of the cabin can be found here).

Air China’s 777-300ER seats 313 passengers: 8 in First, 42 in Business and 263 in Economy and is the first out of 19 ordered by the airline. It will first be deployed on domestic routes between Beijing and Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenzhen. When the carrier receives its second B777-300ER, it will be put on the Beijing-Frankfurt route from September 1, 2011 and other long-haul destinations, including London (January 2011), Paris and North America. Says He Li, Vice President of Air China: “The 777-300ER will be the backbone of our long-haul international fleet in the coming years and enable us to fulfill our ambition to be a large network carrier with international competitiveness.”

In June 2011, Air China also announced a Business Class upgrade program of 16 Airbus A330-200, which will feature Contour’s ‘Aura Lite’ 180-degree full-flat bed, replacing the current 170-degree angled seats.

Air China has also ordered 5 new B747-800i passenger aircraft (the third airline besides Lufthansa and Korean Air to do so) and in February 2011 became the first Chinese airline to receive the Boeing 737-800NG with the new roomier and mood-lit Sky Interior.

China Southern
Guangzhou-based China Southern is the largest airline in Asia and the fifth largest in the world, measured in passengers carried, and flies to 121 destinations with a fleet of 420 aircraft. The Sky Team-member is accelerating the pace of its international expansion, partly in response to growing competition from China’s expanding high-speed railway network, as 80 percent of its domestic route network, and nearly a quarter of its city pairs, competes with high-speed rail. Australia is one of the priorities in the international expansion of China Southern and the airline flies double-daily to Sydney and Melbourne (from October) and three times a week to Brisbane. In Europe and North America, the airline at this moment only flies to Paris, Amsterdam, LA and Vancouver.

Next operator of A380
In October 2011, China Southern will become the seventh airline, as well as the first Chinese carrier, to operate the A380 double-decker. China Southern’s superjumbo, the first of five on order, will have 506 seats in total: 8 First Class seats at the front of the lower deck, followed by 352 Economy seats in a 3-4-3 configuration. Upstairs there will be a further 76 Economy seats (2-4-2) at the rear of the aircraft, followed by 70 angled lie-flat Business Class seats. China Southern’s A380 will not have a premium economy cabin, although the airline offers this class on most of its other aircraft. Just like Air China does with its first B777-300ER, China Southern will operate its A380 initially on domestic Beijing-Guangzhou and Beijing-Shanghai routes. Following the delivery of its second A380 in November, China Southern’s first international A380 service will be betweeb Guangzhou and Paris.

It is unknown whether China Southern will introduce a brand new cabin and seats on its new A380s and whether the A380 will feature amenities like an onboard lounge, self service bar or a large bathroom in the premium cabins, as is offered by current A380 operators such as Emirates, Qantas, Lufthansa and Air France. China Southern currently offers passengers in First Class on its A330s flat-bed seats in semi-private pods by Contour, which are modeled on those offered by Air France. Business Class features angled lie-flat seats that recline to 165 degrees.

Related articles:
Latest high-speed trains in Asia offer airline-like business class cabins
Turkish Airlines unveils new cabin interior as part of ambitious growth strategy
Korean Air’s new A380 to feature in-flight duty free store

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