For US-based United Airlines (United), the possible further opening up of the Chinese aviation market will surely turn out to be a shot in the arm, and the US carrier is sparing no effort to prepare itself for future opportunities.
"We support the idea of further opening up the Chinese aviation market, especially those sectors and cities outside major air hubs, such as Beijing," said Graham Atkinson, senior vice-president in charge of United's worldwide sales and alliances.
The senior manager said that further market liberalization, such as third-country code-sharing, will offer United a wide spectrum of business chances.
"Of course, we know that aviation market liberalization can, by no means, take place over night. Therefore we fully understand the Chinese aviation authority, who would rather prefer a steady and orderly opening up," Atkinson stressed.
China plans to open its aviation market wider to the outside world and is looking for more partnership links with foreign counterparts, Li Jun, deputy-director of the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC) said last week at the high-profiled China-US Aviation Symposium.
A Memorandum of Understanding on the China/US Aviation Co-operation Programme (ACP) was hammered out between CAAC and the US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA).
Under the new plan, the USTDA will improve the co-ordination of US assistance in ACP projects, including financial support, technological help and personnel training.
The partnership came six weeks after the US Federal Aviation Administration's administrator, Marion Blakey, met CAAC Director Yang Yuanyuan in late February. The two discussed co-operation in air safety areas, including flight standards, air traffic management, aircraft certification, airport safety management, personnel training and safety data.
Analysts say that although an all-round opening up of the Chinese aviation market is not possible in short term, it is inevitable.
"Due to various concerns, such as safety and protecting domestic carriers, the Chinese aviation watchdog cannot loosen its grip on the domestic market any time soon. But what is certain is that more flights will be approved as demand surges," Frank Yan, passenger sales manager of British Airways in China, said.
United said last week that the result of ticket bookings for its new route linking San Francisco and Beijing has been quite "encouraging", and it will take more steps to further tap the local and Asia-Pacific aviation markets.
"The Asia-Pacific region is a key part of United's vision and strategy," Atkinson said.
"We plan to further expand our presence here by opening new flights and offering new services. Till now, our strategy has proceeded quite well as we have witnessed encouraging booking numbers for the planned San Francisco-Beijing route."
The US carrier announced earlier that it is adding a new, daily flight between San Francisco International Airport and Beijing, from June.
United will fly its San Francisco-Beijing route with a Boeing 777, which will have 10 seats in first class, 49 in business class and 194 in economy class. While UA889 will begin service on June 10, the return leg, UA888, will start two days later.
The US carrier also plans flight expansion between the US and Asia-Pacific region by offering Osaka-Chicago and Narita-Honolulu from June.
"We are pleased to be adding substantial, new services in this market. This expansion is in response to a steady rise in customer demand and builds on our leadership across the Pacific," Atkinson said.
Passengers travelling on United within the Asia-Pacific region or between the United States and the region generate almost 20 per cent of United's total revenue.
"We have every indication that growth will continue in the region, as the worldwide and Asian business environment and tourism industry charge back to life," Atkinson stressed.
To better address the Chinese market, United has promised that it will open its third regional office later this month in Guangzhou.
"Once opened, the office can bring our service to customers in southern China to a new level. And we hope someday we can open new flights to the city," Atkinson added.
In October 2003, United began a new partnership with Air China to expand travel options for its customers in the fast-growing Sino-US market.
This partnership includes code-sharing on 26 weekly trans-Pacific flights, as well as to two cities in China and 17 cities in the United States, frequent flier mileage accumulation and reciprocal lounge access for the two airlines' customers.
United's current service to China includes daily San Francisco-Shanghai, Chicago-Beijing and Tokyo-Beijing flights.
In order to accommodate the additional seven weekly trips between San Francisco and Beijing under its maximum allowed 21 weekly flights, United will discontinue its Tokyo-Beijing service from June 12.
Source: China Business Weekly