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Air China Ltd. is expanding worldwide, and the U.S. market is of particular interest to the airline. This year, China’s national carrier ordered four Boeing 777-300ER aircraft and it established its North American headquarters in El Segundo, Calif. TravelAge West recently spoke with Zhihang Chi, Air China’s vice president and general manager for North America, to discuss the airline’s strategies for expansion and growth.
How has business been this year?This year has been an extraordinarily good one. U.S. origin traffic is rebounding, but it is not quite like what we saw in 2007. Chinese travelers are coming to the U.S. in droves.
How important is the U.S. market to Air China?International business is a very heavy component of our overall business. The U.S. market is also probably one of the most challenging for us; to demonstrate to the world that we are a major player, we need to make it in this market. The West is where we concentrate most of our capacity. Today, we fly to four North American destinations: New York, Vancouver, San Francisco and Los Angeles. As you can see, our capacity is heavily concentrated in the West for good reason; it is geographically and culturally closer to China.
In what ways is Air China planning to expand its areas of service?It is fully our intent and in our plans to expand more flights between China and the U.S. We have 15 Boeing 787s on order and we have a number of Boeing 777-300ERs on order. Those planes are almost all designated for the long-haul U.S. market. In 2002, we had 69 aircraft. At the end of July, we had 365 airplanes. We’re flying to more destinations and expanding our network. Strategically, our Beijing hub is the most efficient hub for connecting traffic throughout Asia because of its geographic location. We’re always looking for ways to expand in China and throughout Asia as well. Along the way, we have either acquired carriers within China or we have formed partnerships with other carriers such as United and Cathay Pacific, for example.