The first of three Chinese airlines flying to India, Air China will commence Mumbai – Beijing flights this September. In a bid to expand the number of routes and giving credence to the growing trade between India and China, the national carrier will make Mumbai its third Indian city of commute. Air China already flies to Delhi and Bangalore. The new route, which will make a stopover in Chengdu, will compete with Air India which until now was the only airline flying between Mumbai and any Chinese city. Air India, flew Mumbai-Delhi-Shanghai. Hainan Airlines, is expected to start direct flights from Shenzen in Guangdong Province to Kolkata, the seat of India’s largest Chinatown.
Besides Air China, China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines already fly to India. China Southern flies from Guangzhou to New Delhi, China Eastern flies from Shanghai to New Delhi. Apart from Air India’s tri-weekly flights to Shanghai commuters currently have to take several connecting flights where costs range from Rs. 32,000 to one lakh plus on economy. Flight rates for new sector are currently unclear.
As a result of the lack of flight routes, commuters mostly businessmen, would also fly alternative routes through Bangkok or Hong Kong into China, Air China hopes to capture this potential market. Other airlines including Jet Airways which formerly did fly between Mumbai – Shanghai and onward to San Francisco as well as Kingfisher airlines is also very keen to tap into the India-China route. Jet airways halted the route to cut back on losses prior to the financial crisis. Besides the low profitability of passengers – few fly between India and China besides holidays and trade fair season, regulatory hurdles snarled in security, red-tape and animosity have also created air pockets for airlines.
A Mumbai International Airport Limited spokesperson confirmed Air China has indicated its intention to start operations but has not officially applied for a slot. A few years ago, Eastern China airline had operated a flight to Mumbai for a while, he said.
Air China is the world’s largest airline in terms of market value. It operates over 280 planes covering 32 countries. In 2010, the airline flew 60 million passengers.