British Airways has held talks with airlines in China aimed at boosting connections there while looking to add more destinations of its own in the world’s fastest-growing major economy.
British Airways has had discussions with discount carrier Spring Airlines Co., China Eastern Airlines Corp. and Sichuan Airlines Co., among others, Willie Walsh, chief executive officer of parent company IAG SA, said yesterday.
BA has been “very late into China” due to relatively poor U.K. trade links and a lack of flight slots at its London Heathrow hub, Walsh said. Services to Chengdu, added after the purchase of BMI freed up 42 slots, are exceeding expectations, the CEO said at the CAPA World Aviation Summit in Amsterdam.
“It is a huge market,” he said. “There is a long list of cities in China we see with opportunities.”
The Asian country has also been a weakness for the Oneworld airline grouping, which counts only Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. as a full member there, with Cathay’s regional subsidiary Dragonair as an affiliate.
Shanghai-based China Eastern is a member of the rival SkyTeam alliance led by Air France-KLM Group and Delta Air Lines Inc., which also includes China Southern Airlines Co., Asia’s biggest carrier by traffic, and Xiamen Airlines Co.
The Star Alliance that includes Deutsche Lufthansa AG counts Beijing-based Air China Ltd. and its Shenzhen Airlines Co. unit as members. It’s not uncommon for carriers to share flight codes even when they’re in different global pacts.
“We will continue to talk to carriers there with a view to developing a bilateral relationship outside of the Oneworld alliance,” Walsh said. The U.K. government should also press on with planes to ease visa rules for Chinese visitors, he said.
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said last month that Britain would start a pilot program to allow some Chinese travel agents to apply for visas with the same form they use for a visit to the European Union’s Schengen Zone, where a single entry permit is good for access to multiple states.
British Airways currently serves Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu directly, together with Hong Kong, where it has boosted capacity by deploying the second of its Airbus SAS A380 superjumbos to enter its fleet.