Air China expands service across US

Updated: 2013-04-01 11:02

By Zhang Yuwei in New York (China Daily)

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 Air China expands service across US

Chi Zhihang, Air China's vice-president and general manager for North America, presents a gift to Jeff Pearse, deputy general manager for JFK for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey on Sunday. Zhang Yuwei / China Daily

Air China expands service across US

Airline increases flights to NYC, San Francisco and Los Angeles

Sunday afternoon's takeoff of a Beijing-bound Air China jet named Smiling China from John F. Kennedy International Airport marked a milestone for the national flag carrier in the US market: an increase in nonstop New York-Beijing flights to 11 round trips a week with an upgrade to Boeing 777-300ER jet aircraft.

"The sky is the limit," Chi Zhihang, Air China's vice-president and general manager for North America, said as he introduced the airline's plans for the US market this year.

"Many things are happening today," Chi said on Sunday, referring to new service begun simultaneously in West Coast cities that Air China serves.

"In Los Angeles, where we are running 11 times per week already with Boeing 777-300 ERs, today it's going to go from 11 to 14 times a week; in San Francisco, our operation is going to go from a Boeing 747-400 combination aircraft to an all-passenger aircraft, which presents a 20 percent increase in the number of seats," he said.

The Boeing 777-300ER is described by its US-based manufacturer as having a smaller carbon footprint than other commercial passenger jets. Its cabin is wider, and coach-class seats have individual monitors and consoles with audio and video on demand.

Before its return run to the Chinese capital later in the day, the freshly upgraded Smiling China received a salute with a water cannon upon its arrival from Beijing on Sunday morning.

"The links that existed before between business and leisure travelers will be substantially enhanced with the introduction of this aircraft," said Jeff Pearse, deputy general manager for JFK for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the region's airports and organized the salute for Smiling China on the tarmac.

Air China inaugurated its nonstop New York-Beijing service in 1981. As a member of the world's largest global code-sharing system, Star Alliance, the carrier provides service to over 1,300 destinations in 193 countries.

Sun Guoxiang, China's consul general in New York, said Air China's continuing effort to add service contributes to the promotion of Chinese-US ties.

"The additional flights by Air China will boost people-to-people exchanges and practical cooperation between our two countries," Sun said.

Tourism has helped the countries stimulate their economies. Chinese tourists in 2011 spent $7.7 billion in the US, a per-traveler average of $7,107, according to the China National Tourism Administration. That helped sustain 210,000 jobs in the US. The same year, tourists from the United States spent $3.3 billion in China, or $2,348 per traveler on average.

Chinese officials have also touted the government's new policy of allowing foreigners 72 hours of visa-free transit if they're only passing through Beijing or Shanghai.

The tourism agency predicts that the number of people traveling between the US and China will reach 5 million in 2015.

"Now when you go to China, not only do you see ancient treasures, such as the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, you also see modern wonders, and you will see a China like never before," said Xue Yaping, director of the China National Tourist Office in New York.

Chi, the Air China executive, said the airline is focused on upgrading and expanding service. For example, he said service between Beijing and the Canadian city of Vancouver is being increased to 11 round-trip flights a week in mid-May and nonstop service between Beijing and Houston will begin in July.

The Texas city will be the first new destination for Air China in 30 years, Chi said.