Air China upgrades carrier

Updated: 2014-02-12 09:21

By CHANG JUN in San Francisco (China Daily USA)

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Air China announced on Tuesday that it would start using a Boeing 777-300 ER — the same carrier it has been using for its other US destinations such as New York, Houston and Los Angeles — to fly its Beijing-San Francisco route starting Feb 11.

A group of 218 passengers from Beijing, on the 11-hour maiden flight with the new carrier, landed at SFO at 11:20 am. The same flight would depart for China in about four hours with its 311 seats fully booked.

"This is a significant moment in the history of Air China," said Chi Zhihang, Air China's vice-president and North American General Manager.

"What happens in San Francisco signifies that we've accomplished a full-swing upgrade upgrade in our airplanes," Chi said at a welcoming ceremony held at the airport.

To date, Air China operates all its US continental destinations, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston, with B777-300 ER. "Our introduction of this state-of-the-art aircraft for our long-haul operations provides passengers an optimal flying experience," Chi added.

The continuing rise in exchanges between the US and China has contributed to brisk business for the aviation industries, said Song Ruan, deputy consul general at the Chinese Consulate General in San Francisco.

"We've seen a sharp growth in bilateral exchanges in all aspects, such as education, travel, business and trade. Two-way trade has reported a record high of half a trillion US dollars last year, the number was $2.45 billion in 1979," said Song.

Citing people-to-people exchanges between the two nations as another example, Song said there are roughly 235,000 Chinese students studying in the US and China hosts around 44,000 American students. "Are these people traveling by boats?" he asked.

"No, they travel by airplanes," he said.

Airliners like Air China play important roles in transporting people and help facilitate the two-way communications, he added. "Air China has been a witness to the development of the China-US relationship," said Song, adding this year marked the 35th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relationship between China and the US.

"I believe Air China will be a top choice for US and Chinese travelers with the upgrade to the Boeing 777-300 ER," said Song. "This will open a new chapter not only in Air China's history, but the friendship notes between San Francisco and Beijing."

In addition to its higher fuel-efficiency and more operational reliability, the Boeing 777-300 ER features the best cabin interior design in Air China's history, said Zhao Litao, general manager of Air China's San Francisco office.

Chi said 2014 will be another year bombarded with marketing and sales events for his company, as Air China has set up an ambitious roadmap for its US market growth.

On Jan 20, Air China launched its first nonstop flight from Beijing to Honolulu, exclusively focused on tourism. Operating three times a week, Air China is projected by the Hawaii Tourism Authority to be able to bring roughly $80.4 billion in annual visitor expenditure and $8.6 million in state tax revenue.

In addition, Air China will increase in frequency its Houston-Beijing direct route from four times a week to daily starting March 30.

"We've been walking a long way," said Chi, citing Air China's humble early years as the government aviation agency. Now as a publicly traded company listed in Hong Kong, London and New York and a member of the Starr Alliance, "Air China has still not arrived at all its destinations yet," said Chi.

Air China will continue its expansion and product upgrades in other cities in North America this year, according to Chi. By the end of March, Air China will increase its direct New York-Beijing service from 11 per week to two flights per day. In June, it will launch a Washington DC-Beijing direct flight. "In total, we are going to operate 60 weekly flights to seven destinations," he said.

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