Just two years after its inaugural flight to China, Austrian Airlines increased its Beijing service from twice to three times a week and, more importantly from a strategic perspective, it has been allowed to continue two of these flights to Shanghai.
It is now the third European carrier to serve Shanghai after Lufthansa and Swissair. Its success is partly due to its close cooperation with Air China, whereby Air China buys and markets 80 seats on all Austrian Airlines flights to and from China. In order to provide an even more personalised service to its Chinese clients, two Air China hostesses are on board each flight. According to Alfred Brader, Austrian Airlines' first general manager in China, the outbound Chinese market is essential to the success of Austrian Airlines. This year, Mr Brader expects more than 60 per cent load factor despite a capacity increase by 50 per cent.
Another reason for its growing success is Vienna's strategic location in Europe. The city, located in the heart of Europe, is more and more regarded as the perfect gateway to both Western and Eastern Europe from Asian destinations for inbound traffic. Long-term ,established trade connections, similarities in languages and culture lead many Eastern European nations to look at Austria as the gateway to the rest of the world, therefore participating in steady growth of outbound traffic from Vienna.
Austrian Airlines A340
Austria has only 8 million inhabitants and 30 per cent of the airline's China business comes from third countries. "Austria's neighbours are heavily engaged with China in economic and technical cooperation," Mr Brader said. "And Vienna is becoming an important source of traffic from the emerging markets that stretch from Budapest to the Black Sea and embrace even Belarus to the north."
Great importance is also given to same-day connections from China to over 35 major European cities. Likewise, return flights benefit from the same excellent connections. Vienna International Airport's excellent infrastructure, including the World Trade Centre, two hotels, modern passenger-oriented architecture and a wide range of shopping facilities, also plays an important role in the development of Austrian Airlines overall business. Furthermore, it is one of Europe's least congested airports both in the air and on the ground. It proves to be a valuable selling point for business people and it offers a record minimum connecting time of just 25 minutes, much faster than any other crowded mega-hub.
With regards to Shanghai as its latest destination, Mr Brader is cautiously optimistic about short-term prospects for the new route. "The traffic will grow steadily. What we are doing now is an investment in the future – it is also a strategic decision" he said. "We are certain that it's a further step in the right market".