China Airlines to upgrade Australasia product and increase capacity as A350s are delivered

Taiwan’s China Airlines (CAL) plans to begin operating the A350 to Auckland, Brisbane and – eventually Melbourne – in addition to deploying the new type to Sydney.

CAL announced in May-2017 the upgrade of Sydney-Taipei services from 1-Dec-2017 to double daily A350-900 flights. CAL currently serves Sydney-Taipei with five weekly A330-300 flights and over the last three years has offered between four and seven weekly A330-300 frequencies, depending on the time of year.

CAL also announced in May-2017 that it was suspending Sydney-Auckland but upgrading Taipei-Brisbane-Auckland to daily from 1-Dec-2017. CAL currently operates four weekly A330-300 frequencies on Taipei-Brisbane-Auckland and in recent years has offered three to five weekly frequencies on the route depending on the time of year.

CAL operated its last flight from Sydney to Auckland, which was served with three to four weekly frequencies, in Jul-2017. Earlier this year, CAL also suspended seasonal Sydney-Christchurch services which had operated the last three summers with three weekly flights.

CAL General Manager Strategic Planning James Chung said at a press conference, during the 25-Oct-2017 AAPA Assembly of Presidents in Taipei, that the airline plans to introduce the A350-900 on the Taipei-Brisbane-Auckland route in Dec-2017. He said there are no immediate plans to upgrade CAL’s other Australasia route, Taipei-Melbourne-Christchurch, from A330-300s to A350-900s. CAL now serves Taipei-Melbourne with three weekly flights, which continue to Christchurch during the southern summer season; CAL is again operating the Melbourne-Christchurch sector this summer although it has decided to stop offering Sydney-Christchurch.

Eventually Christchurch and Melbourne are expected to be served with A350s. “Next year we have another four A350 coming [and] gradually we will be changing A330 service to A350,” Mr Chung said.

CAL currently operates eight A350s and has six more on order. Two aircraft are slated to be delivered by the end of 2017, followed by the last four in 2018. CAL configures its A350-900s with 306 seats including 32 lie flat business class seats in 1-2-1 configuration, 31 premium economy seats in 2-3-2 configuration and 243 regular economy seats in 3-3-3 configuration.

The introduction of the A350 gives CAL a significantly improved position in Australia’s premium market as its A330-300s have 30 to 36 recliner style business class seats in a 2-2-2 configuration. CAL’s A330s, which have a total of 307 to 313 seats (depending on the aircraft), also do not have a premium economy cabin.

While CAL is more than doubling capacity in the Sydney-Taipei market, the airline is confident the additional seats can be absorbed given the product improvements, rapid growth in Taiwanese visitor traffic to Australia and its new pursuit of sixth freedom traffic from Australia.

CAL will also have the distinction of becoming the first airline to operate the A350 to Sydney.

CAL is launching four weekly flights to London Gatwick on 1-Dec-2017 using A350-900s. It is no coincidence the launch of London is the same day CAL is upgrading Sydney as the airline is heavily promoting its new Kangaroo route connections. In addition to London, CAL is now offering Sydney passengers connections to its four other European destinations – Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Rome and Vienna.

“We are joining the Kangaroo route competition,” Mr Chung said. “We know this is a very, very competitive. The leader is Emirates and Singapore Airlines. But at China Airlines we try to make some niche.”

The new London flight also connects with Brisbane and Melbourne in both directions. However, CAL is only able to offer a two-stop product in the Auckland-London market because Auckland is served via Brisbane.

Mr Chung said there are no plans to decouple Brisbane and Auckland and offer a nonstop service from Auckland to Taipei. He explained that CAL looked at potentially serving Auckland with nonstop flights but has determined that continuing to serve New Zealand via Australia with fifth freedom rights across the Tasman is most beneficial.

CAL has until now relied primarily on the local Australia-Taiwan market, which has been growing rapidly due to strong inbound demand. Taiwanese visitor numbers to Australia increased by 24% in 2016 to 163,000, according to Tourism Australia data. CAL’s Australia-Taiwan passenger traffic increased by an even faster 36% in 2016 to 233,000 passengers, according to BITRE data.

By pursuing sixth freedom traffic and improving its product, CAL should be able to further accelerate its rate of growth in the Australia-Taiwan market. CAL will also have the distinction of becoming the first airline to operate the A350 to Sydney.