Sichuan Airlines lands in Vancouver: The Chinese are coming to Canada!

Sichuan Airlines became the fourth Chinese carrier to operate scheduled flights between China and Canada when it landed its inaugural Chengdu-Vancouver flight at the Vancouver International Airport (YVR) on June 22. From then on, it is scheduled to be three times weekly.

The other three Chinese carriers that make scheduled calls at YVR are Air China, China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines.

The Canadians have long been courting the Chinese at the national level, exploring opportunities not just in the field of aviation but also in the wider economic context covering other industries. It is only to be expected that increased trade between the two countries will trigger increased travel as well as the demand for more cargo capacity and flights.

Vancouver Airport Authority (VAA) is wasting no time to position VIA on the Canadian west coast as the gateway to not only Canada but also North America. It is optimistic that passenger traffic from China to Canada will increase considering China’s population of 1.33 people and the growing class of the wealthy, and as China relaxes the rules for Chinese to travel overseas and Canada makes it easier for them to obtain visas to visit.

There is already a healthy trend as according to the British Columbia Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation, Chinese arrivals increased by 24.9 per cent to 25,598 in Q1 of 2012.

Like any other airport, VAA is keen on enticing more airlines to YVR and sees Chinese carriers as contributing to that growth. According to VAA president and CEO Larry Berg, there are 61 weekly flights between Vancouver and China (including Hong Kong). He said: “That’s probably about the most of any airport in North America.”

Yet there seems to be an implicit fear of YVR’s isolation because of its geographical far-northwest location. As the region grows economically and attracts more tourists, there is also the fear of loss of traffic to competing airports in the region.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which positions itself as America’s gateway to the Pacific northwest, is probably YVR’s closest rival although Chinese carriers have yet to make scheduled calls there. Located just south of the US-Canadian border, it is only a hop away.

However, YVR is also concerned with intra-competition as it keeps a close eye on growing airports in neighbouring provinces, such as Calgary International Airport.

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About David Leo
David Leo has more than 30 years of aviation experience, having served in senior management in one of the world's best airlines and airports. He continues to maintain a keen interest in the business, writes freelance and provides consultancy services in the field.

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