Date
19 October 2017
Chairman Wang Zhenghua says the company plans to increase its fleet to more than 100 aircraft by 2018. Photo: Spring Airlines
Chairman Wang Zhenghua says the company plans to increase its fleet to more than 100 aircraft by 2018. Photo: Spring Airlines

INTERVIEW: Spring Airlines gears up for Japan foray

Spring Airlines Co. Ltd., China’s first and biggest low-cost carrier, plans to launch services to Japan in March amid easing territorial tensions between the two largest Asian economies, a top executive said.

The company is awaiting Japanese regulatory approval but expects services to get under way in the first half “hopefully between Shanghai and Tokyo”, chairman Wang Zhenghua {王正華}, told the Hong Kong Economic Journal’s EJ Insight.

“Outbound routes will be the main focus for our business next year. We have gained approvals to launch services between Shanghai and Taipei five round trips a week starting from Dec. 1, after launching the Shanghai-Kaohsiung route on Oct. 27,” Wang said. The carrier is also seeking permission for services between Shanghai and Seoul.

The carrier operates nine international routes covering some cities in Thailand, Taiwan and South Korea. The longest route takes about four hours.

Spring Airlines and Juneyao Airlines Co. Ltd. have received the go-ahead for flights to Taiwan, the first mainland budget carriers to do so since 2009, news portal Yicai.com reported on Oct. 9. Spring Airlines will begin thrice-weekly services between Shanghai and the southern Taiwanese port city of Kaohsiung on Oct. 27, the report said.

In addition, Spring Airlines Japan Co. Ltd., a subsidiary of Spring Airlines, has received approval from Japanese regulators to operate services in the country, 21st Century Business Herald reported on Sept. 10.

The first flight is planned for May 2014, spokesperson Zhang Wu was quoted as saying. Spring Airlines will become the first Chinese company to launch a budget airline overseas.

Tensions between China and Japan over the Diaoyu islands — Senkakus in Japanese — intensified at the end of last year after both sides sent naval and air patrols to the disputed waters to assert their sovereignty.

With a drastic decline in air travel between China and Japan, Air China Ltd. (00753.HK, 601111.CN) suspended direct flights between Beijing and Okinawa in October last year. It did not resume services until July 3.

Domestic flights

Zhang said Spring Airlines and Spring Japan will jointly operate the China-Japan services. Spring Japan, which will be based at Narita airport, will launch Narita-Takamatsu, Narita-Hiroshima and Narita-Saga services in the initial phase.

Meanwhile, Spring Airlines plans to increase the number of flights out of Shanghai to tap demand from the Shanghai free trade zone.

It will also put more resources into the Pearl River Delta. “We are applying for a base in the region, hoping that we can operate flights from cities such as Xiamen, Guangzhou and Shenzhen,” Wang said.

The airline conducts 12 to 14 daily flights to and from Xiamen and eight out of Guangzhou and Shenzhen. It has a fleet of 38 aircraft.

“We expect to increase our fleet to more than 100 aircraft by 2018,” Wang said. About 40 percent of the planes will be self-owned and the rest leased. 

Spring Airlines plans to offer non-flight services such as cargo and baggage handling to enable it to charge more competitive ticket prices.

It has sold seats as low as 1 yuan (16.3 US cents) during low seasons rather than leave them vacant. “At least we got some money off them instead of none,” Wang said.

– Contact the reporter at [email protected]

RA

 

Ayishah Ma is a financial reporter on Greater China issues.

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe