Flights between UK and China to double under aviation deal

2016-10-19 13:20  Author:Robert Wright  Source:FINANCIAL TIMES

Number of air services permitted to rise to 200 a week and mainland destinations list to expand

Airlines will have the right to operate more than twice as many weekly services as at present between the UK and mainland China under sweeping changes that the UK government said were part of building a “confident, global Britain after Brexit”.

The deal, agreed on Tuesday between representatives from the two governments, will increase the maximum number of weekly flights between the two countries to 200, from 80 at present.

Restrictions will also be lifted on the Chinese destinations to which airlines can fly.

It remains unclear how many new flights the deal will lead to, since London Heathrow, the airport most operators would prefer to serve, is full to capacity. At the moment, Chinese airlines operate 38 flights a week between the two countries, while UK airlines operate 29.

The increase was made possible after the two sides agreed to modify their bilateral aviation agreement. Such deals are the mechanisms that many countries use to regulate air services. Most lay out rules about airline ownership that dictate which airlines count as national airlines for the parties to the deal.

The deal had previously not only limited the number of flights each week but also dictated that any UK airline could serve a maximum of six separate destinations in China. The new deal discards those limits, giving UK airlines the right to operate to anywhere in mainland China.

The new deal is part of a concerted effort to emphasise the UK’s continued openness to the wider world, particularly emerging markets beyond Europe, in the wake of theBrexit vote in June to leave the EU.

“The move is set to boost tourism and trade opportunities for the UK: links which will be vital as we look to build a confident, global Britain after Brexit,” the Department for Transport said.

Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, called the modified deal a “big moment for the UK”.

“Strong connections with emerging markets like China are vital for us if we are to continue competing on the global economic stage,” he said.

However, airlines will have to decide whether it makes sense to use the extra capacity to offer new flights to and from China. Transatlantic routes are generally the most profitable long-haul routes for global airlines.

The transport department said that it was a commercial decision for airlines whether or not to operate additional flights.

“It’s not something that government mandates,” the department said. “But we are hopeful that companies will take that decision.”

British Airways, the UK’s biggest long-haul airline by passenger numbers, said it constantly reviewed its network but had no immediate plans to increase its number of flights to China.

“To really boost links to China we would welcome the government re-examining how they can make it easier for Chinese visitors to get visas. The US has ten year visas - that should be our aim too.”

Any increase in flights is likely to be dependent on expansion of airport capacity in south-east England, the area that generates most travel demand on the route.

The government is expected to make a long-awaited announcement on its strategy in that area as soon as next week, with current thinking appearing to lean towards allowing a third runway at Heathrow.

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