WHY CHINESE AIRLINES CAN OFFER SUCH CHEAP FLIGHTS
I’ve found some cheap flights to Brisbane with Air China but I assume they’re best avoided?” So asked reader Shari Rendle, who sought advice about travelling to the Queensland capital in the spring. 訂飛機票
Best not avoided, I recommended. Ms Rendle might not enjoy quite the inflight cuisine of Singapore Airlines, the wines of Qantas or the seatback entertainment of Emirates, but she will be flown safely to the other side of the world and back on a Star Alliance airline for an absurdly low fare.
According to the World Bank, airline passenger numbers in the People’s Republic increased nine-fold between 1995 and 2015 – mainly thanks to a couple of enlightened decisions from the leadership in Beijing.
When first I flew within China in 1982, the airports were shabby and makeshift, but many of the jet planes were robust and safe. At the time, the Soviet Union insisted only Ilyushins, Tupolevs and Yaks (the Moscow-built aircraft, not the Himalayan beasts of burden) qualified for the Aeroflot fleet. But the People’s Republic looked beyond the Great Wall for planes.
Starting in the Sixties with some British Tridents (the three-engined passengers planes, not the nuclear deterrent), China has hungrily bought Western aircraft. Remarkably, says aviation safety expert Adrian Young, this decision helped to reduce risk.
After the orders were placed, he explains, “Safety initiatives followed, because the manufacturers did not want their aeroplanes being brought into the news if their products crashed there.”
Initially the Tridents and Boeings flew under the catchy brand CAAC, standing for “Civil Aviation Administration of China”. But 30 years ago, China made a great leap forward. In 1988, the state airline was divided up around key hubs: Beijing (Air China), Shanghai (China Eastern) and Guangzhou (China Southern). Even though they remain ultimately publicly owned, the internal competition spurred the spread of safe and affordable air travel across the People’s Republic.
Today, many of China’s airports are gleaming, space-age structures that put cramped and awkward 20th-century European or US terminals to shame. Business travellers can choose from three or four flights an hour each way between Beijing and Shanghai. Even on a niche route such as Xian to Guilin there are six daily departures.