China Eastern Airlines said it will complete the transfer of operations to Beijing Daxing International Airport in its 2020 summer flight schedule, following an initial shift during the 2019-20 winter schedule.

Delta Air Lines and Air France-KLM, partners of China Eastern in the SkyTeam alliance, will coordinate flights with the Chinese carrier in forming four daily sets of arrival and departure banks, designed to shorten transfer times.

Daxing International is scheduled to open Sept. 30, although construction progress has been smooth, so it may begin operations early. It will supplement Beijing Capital International Airport and replace little Beijing Nanyuan Airport. The new facility will also become the Beijing home of China Eastern subsidiaries Shanghai Airlines and China United Airlines, as well as China Southern Airlines and its subsidiaries. 

At first, China Eastern’s main international destinations from Daxing will be Paris, London, Sydney and Tokyo, the carrier said in its most detailed description so far of its plans for the new airport. The carrier notably failed to repeat its March statement that New York would be a priority destination. Permission from the Civil Aviation Administration of China is needed to open routes.

China Eastern said Daxing International will become its second “gateway hub,” after its home town, Shanghai—though at that city the carrier operates from two airports, Shanghai Hongqiao and Shanghai Pudong, the former serving mainly domestic destinations. 

During the 2019-20 winter schedule, which will begin in September, China Eastern will move 24 daily flights, 10% of all it operates from Capital International, to Daxing. A further 70% will shift in the 2020 summer schedule, completing the move. The remaining 20% will be 46 daily services to Shanghai, which will stay at the old airport.

Since China United is based at Nanyuan Airport, which will close when the new one opens, its complete operation of 131 daily flights will relocate during the winter schedule. Shanghai Airlines will move all its seven daily Beijing flights from Capital International to the new airport in the 2020 summer schedule.

China Eastern did not indicate the timings of the four sets arrival and departure banks. In this widely used arrangement, many aircraft arrive close together (forming a bank), wait long enough for passengers to change flights, then leave close together. 

“China Eastern has confirmed that it and major SkyTeam members US carrier Delta Air Lines and Air France-KLM will together form flight banks and look at how to arrange flight connections and route networks,” the Chinese airline said. “Together they will take on the strategic development responsibility of positioning Beijing Daxing International Airport as a SkyTeam hub.”

SkyTeam members, which do not include China United, have an average of more than 400 daily flights at Beijing. By 2025 there will be 650, handling 30-35 million passengers a year, China Eastern said. Daxing International’s planned capacity at that time will be 72 million passengers a year.

China Southern Airlines is also a member of SkyTeam but will leave the alliance this year.

In 2022, China Eastern and its two subsidiaries plan to serve 137 destinations from the new airport, operating 274 flights on an average day and using 151 aircraft, of which 80 will be kept overnight at the facility. By 2025, the Beijing operation is supposed to rise to 181 destinations, 360 flights a day, and 180-200 aircraft in use, including 120 kept overnight.

In the first two years after relocation, the three carriers will provide at least five flights a day from Daxing International to Shanghai, Kunming, Xian, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Chengdu, Chongqing and Shenzhen. They will also serve all Chinese airports that handle at least 10 million passengers a year.

Bradley Perrett, perrett@aviationweek.com

Research by Ryan Wang