Air China ups Houston-Beijing service to daily

Updated: 2014-01-15 10:08

By By MAY ZHOU in Houston (China Daily USA)

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Air China Vice-President and General Manager for North America Chi Zhihang announced yesterday at a press conference held at Bush Intercontinental Airport that Air China will increase its Houston-Beijing direct flight from its current level of four a week to daily service starting March 30.

"Strong demand from business and leisure travelers to China and destinations in Asia has accelerated the implementation of our growth strategy for Houston,” Chi said. “The additional flights will provide more options and flexibility to corporate business people and international travelers."

The Houston-Beijing route, officially launched on July 11, 2013, is AC's longest route. Its launch broke AC's traditional mode of bringing flights only to coastal or northern US cities where there are large populations of ethnic Chinese.

"There are about 1 million ethnic Chinese in Los Angeles, but officially there are only about 80,000 ethnic Chinese in Houston, so our strategy was to focus on Houston's corporate world due to its strong energy industry, medical center and overall economic strength, and thus we adventured into American heartland," Chi said.

The strategy has proved successful. Since its inception, the Houston flights — operated with a 316-seat Boeing 777-300ER — have stayed at over 80 percent of full capacity, and within the first 15 days, AC already broke even with a slight profit.

"This is not only unusual for Air China, this is unusual for airlines in general. Normally we expect a loss for one to two years before seeing profit," Chi said, calling the Houston flight the most successful launch ever for AC.

"Today we make history again because this is the fastest we’ve ever brought a wide-body international flight up to daily service. To put things in perspective, it took us 20 years to bring LA and San Francisco flights to dailies." For Houston, it will be less than 8 months.

Chi considers the Houston fight a breakthrough not only for AC's strategy into the American heartland but also for its management style. It's the first flight where AC has not set up a local manager, and members of a small team stationed in Houston report back to its LA headquarters according to their function. "This shortens the chain of command and makes the local office much more interactive with headquarters," he explained.

Chi called the success "a testament to Houston's strong economy and a thriving local Chinese community", but he pointed out that the direct flight also put Houston up front for people in China, "more and more Chinese people are getting to know Houston now because of our direct flights".

Will the daily flight be as successful? Chi said he is quite hopeful and he believes it will do well. By running on a daily schedule, customers no longer need to accommodate their schedule to the flights and this should attract more travelers to choose AC.

"The increase to daily flights is a quantum leap forward which will allow us to provide much better service," he said.

Chinese Consul General Xu Erwen called the news, arriving at the beginning of the year, "auspicious news for 2014." According to Xu, the opening of Houston-Beijing route greatly improved bilateral exchanges, and in 2013, Chinese investment in 8 Southern states reached $12 billion and over 80% of that was in Texas.

Houston Airport System Director Mario Diaz commented that the impact brought by the Houston flight is phenomenal. "Just the tourists, people it brought in alone, meals, hotels, shopping, it adds to $145 million a year,” he said. “I could imagine the same thing for Beijing."