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Heathrow welcomes China’s largest airline, and a new trade route to Guangzhou

27 February, 2012


China Southern will operate the first ever flights between London and Guangzhou from June

  • China Southern will operate the first ever flights between London and Guangzhou from June
  • New route expected to boost trade
  • But UK falls further behind France, Germany and Holland in race for new routes to China

China Southern Airlines will begin flights on 6 June 2012 between Heathrow and Guangzhou, China’s third largest city. There will be three flights a week from Terminal 4 and Heathrow will be the only UK airport served by the airline. China Southern Airlines is the largest airline in China and the sixth largest in the world, operating a fleet of more than 300 aircraft.  

The new route will be the first between the UK and Guangzhou and is expected to boost trade.  More than 25% of all global economic growth over the next five years is expected to come from China and Guangzhou is the country’s third largest city. A recent report by Frontier Economics found that UK businesses trade 20 times as much with Emerging Market destinations that have a direct daily flight to the UK as they do with those countries that do not.

The deal has taken eight years to come to fruition with BAA first talking to the airline in 2004.  Because Heathrow is full, operating at 99.2% of its permitted capacity, China Southern has had to wait for suitable take-off and landing slots to become available from other airlines before it has been able to add the new route. The UK has missed out on trade, jobs and economic growth because of the Government’s cap on flights at the UK’s only hub.  In the meantime the airline has flown to Paris, giving French companies an eight-year head start in building new trade links with China. Even now, Paris will have four times as many flights to Guangzhou than the UK.  

While the UK is adding one new route to the world’s most important emerging market in 2012, its European competitors will serve a further seven additional routes to China’s interior. Paris, Frankfurt or Amsterdam airports will boast direct flights to Chengdu, Hangzhou, Wuhan, Xiamen, Nanjing, Shenyang and Qingdao this year, in addition to the flights to Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai served from the UK.

Other airlines from major emerging economies would like to add new routes at Heathrow, but are unable to do so because of a lack of take-off and landing slots. A recent report by Frontier Economics found that there were twenty-one emerging market destinations with daily flights from Continental European hubs but not from Heathrow. This lack of connectivity is estimated to be costing the UK economy £1.2bn a year in lost trade.

Colin Matthews, Chief Executive Officer of BAA, said

“It is great news for the UK that China Southern is opening up a new route between Heathrow and Guangzhou. We are delighted that China Southern has chosen Heathrow, and we would like to welcome more flights from China Southern and other airlines that could bring jobs and growth to the UK. The centre of gravity in the world economy is shifting and Britain should be forging new links with economies like China. Instead a lack of hub airport capacity is causing us to fall further behind the rest of Europe.”

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