China Eastern, when it has its branch airline in Chengdu, will then have routes to Southeast Asia, an express service to Shanghai and new direct flights to China’s well-developed cities, which will exploit the expansion of the city’s Shuangliu Airport.
The city of 11 million, at the western edge of China’s heavily populated zone, is developing as the gateway for international air services to and from its region, covering well over 100 million people. It is also one of Air China’s three main hubs, the others being Beijing and Shenzhen.
China Eastern’s move serves two strategic purposes: it puts pressure on Air China, not on China Eastern’s intended Skyteam partner, China Southern, and it minimizes competition from China’s rapidly growing fast-train network.
Aviation Week points out that because Chengdu is one of the most westerly of the big cities on the fast rail network, many major destinations are too far away for serious competition from trains. Beijing is about 1,500 km away and Shanghai 1,700 km. The city is also well placed as a hub for services to the sparsely populated territories of Tibet, Qinghai and Xinjiang, which the high-speed railways will barely enter.