Hainan Airlines taking off to the future

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It’s always a pleasure to fly with Hainan Airlines, as I just did last week from Shanghai to Beijing – a clean cabin, an on time departure when other airlines were having delays, and entertainment on board from lottery games, to acceptable food, and a good drinks trolley. But Hainan Airlines has always been a bit different from the normal Chinese carrier.

Founded in 1989, Hainan Airlines became China’s first joint-stock air-transport enterprise in 1993. It remains today privately owned and has grown to become the fourth largest airline on the mainland in terms of fleet size. It is also the most profitable of all of China’s carriers, with reported earnings for the first half of 2007 at RMB189.71 million.

In 1995, the American billionaire George Soros invested US$25 million in the company, buying 100 million shares. In 2005 he invested another US$25 million.

It is an investment that is sure to pay off once the company begins non-stop flights between Beijing and Seattle – the first North American destination for Hainan Airlines. Those flights are set to begin in June 2008, just in time for the Olympics. They also plan to begin a Beijing-Chicago and Beijing-Newark service, both starting in July 2009.

As we pointed out in a previous post on the matter, Hainan Airlines’ new routes follow a recent agreement between China and the United States on doubling the number of passenger flights between the two countries by 2012. The agreement allows 23 daily round-trip flights between China and the United States by 2012, up from the 10 flights at present.

As we have said before though, until the airport infrastructure in China changes to accommodate this increase of plane traffic, and perhaps more fundamentally, until the skies over the mainland are seen as “open” as opposed to under the control of the PLA, there will continue to be the kinds of flight delays and missed connections that has come to represent air travel in the Middle Kingdom. Food for thought next time you need to book a Beijing-Shanghai flight, think comfort and service – China Eastern could learn a thing or two.

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