China Southern ramps up expansion
Asia's largest airline, China Southern, is about to increase pressure on Qantas and its new bedfellow Emirates by flying its flagship A380 superjumbos on routes to Australia.
In a sign of the importance it places on the Australian market, China Southern plans to fly A380s between Sydney and its base in Guangzhou, China's third-largest city, in the second half of this year.
The airline has mostly been flying its five A380s on some of the shortest routes in the world for superjumbos, from Guangzhou to Shanghai and Beijing.
One of China Southern's senior executives, Chen Gang, will be in Sydney at the end of the month, when he is expected to announce the plans to fly A380s to Australia. The airline is understood to still be deciding on the exact timing this year for the entry of the superjumbos.
It is not expected to fly the superjumbos between Melbourne and Guangzhou but will still be using more modern A330 planes on that route later this year.
The introduction of the A380s will be a big step in improving perceptions in Australia that China Southern's on-board products significantly lag other airlines.
Australia has been a testing ground for China Southern's international expansion. Last year it launched the so-called "Canton route" between Australia and London via Guangzhou, as an alternative for Australians to fly to Europe.
The biggest barrier to enticing more Australians to fly via southern China to Europe has been the need to pay $98 for a one-entry tourist visa if they want to stop over.
But China Southern expects local authorities to soon introduce a 72-hour, visa-free policy, similar to what is available for passengers flying via Beijing and Shanghai.
The Chinese airlines are regarded as the sleeping giants of the industry, posing the biggest threat in the longer term to the earnings of incumbents such as Qantas and Singapore Airlines.
China Southern has also been eager to form an alliance with an Australian airline.
But Qantas has hitched itself to Shanghai-based China Eastern via code-share agreements and a joint venture to launch Jetstar Hong Kong by the end of this year.
Virgin Australia's alliance and equity ties with Singapore Airlines also make it less likely it will become a bedfellow for China Southern.
China Southern plans to fly new Airbus A330s to its four Australian destinations by the end of this year.
The airline has been the most aggressive of the Chinese carriers in its Australian expansion. It has 35 weekly return flights to four cities, and plans to boost it to 55 services within two years.