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Five intriguing new city pairs


Leave it to Emirates to make the most intriguing route announcement of the summer.

Perhaps the most meaningful aspect of commercial aviation is its ability to connect two far-apart points on the global map with a single flight. This month there have been a number of significant route announcements in which airlines have revealed plans to soon connect cities currently unconnected by a direct flight. There is risk for an airline opening a route no other carrier is flying, but also potentially great rewards. Here are five new routes on which airlines will boldly go where no one else is flying:

Beijing-Johannesburg (Air China) 3X-weekly Boeing 777-300ER service will start Oct. 29. This will be Beijing-based Air China’s entrance into the African market; the airline will also start flights to Addis Ababa by the end of this year. The Chinese government has been pushing the country’s airlines to fly to Africa, which it considers a growing and valuable trade partner. China Southern Airlines’ 3X-weekly Guangzhou-Nairobi flights are the only scheduled service to Africa currently offered by a Chinese airline. South African Airways did fly this route for more than three years before dropping it earlier this year, citing financial losses on the city pair. Air China and SAA are Star Alliance partners and SAA will place its code on Air China’s flights. Though SAA struggled on the route, SAA has struggled more broadly, so it may not be a good barometer of how Air China will do on the route. Besides, entering the African market is the key here for Air China and the Chinese government, so initial losses on the route will likely be shrugged off.

Beijing-Mumbai (Air China) 4X-weekly Airbus A330-300 flights will start Oct. 25. Hard to believe this route is not flown by anyone, but passengers traveling between the two megacities have been forced to transfer in Hong Kong and other hubs. Air China will enable the route to be traveled in about 7 hr. Air China and the Chinese government undoubtedly want Beijing to be a true global hub, and have decided that direct flights to Africa and Mumbai are a critical part of making that happen.

Dubai-Panama City, Panama (Emirates Airline) Daily 777-200LR flights will start Feb. 1, 2016. Leave it to Emirates to make the most intriguing route announcement of the summer. The westbound Dubai-Panama City flight will be 17 hr. and 35 min. in duration, becoming the longest flight in the world. This will mark Emirates’ entrance into Central America and give it daily access to the “Hub of the Americas,” the moniker given to Panama City’s growing Tocumen International Airport, which serves as the base hub for Star Alliance member Copa Airlines. The timing appears somewhat risky on the surface given how much Latin America’s airlines are struggling right now, but this is a “long game” move by Emirates. Panama City is trying to fashion itself as the Dubai of Latin America (meaning as a hub of commerce and a central transfer point for air travelers, especially business travelers), so it makes sense for Emirates to add the city to its growing network. It also gives Emirates a destination in the northern part of Latin America (currently Emirates flies to Brazil and Argentina in Latin America). And perhaps the UAE airline sees this as a bit of a hedge against threats to its US expansion posed by the American-Delta-United campaign against Middle East airlines, and also as a warning to the US government that Emirates’ global expansion will proceed apace no matter what bigwigs in Washington DC decide.

Salt Lake City-London Heathrow (Delta Air Lines) Seasonal daily service will start May 1, 2016. Given that the flights will be seasonal, Delta will have an opportunity to try out this route before committing to it long-term. Feeding the Delta-Virgin Atlantic Airways transatlantic joint venture is critical to Delta and this provides US passengers with another point to access it.    

London Heathrow-San Jose, California (British Airways) Daily 787-9 flights will start May 4. Right after Delta/Virgin announced a non-traditional pairing with London Heathrow (see above), BA dropped news of Dreamliner service to the heart of the US high tech sector. The big appeal here has to be to business passengers moving between Silicon Valley and London, enabling them to fly directly without a drive from San Francisco or a short flight/drive from Los Angeles. Putting the 787-9 on the route clearly signals a major commitment by BA to build the city pair.

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Aviation Daily Editor in Chief's blog

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