It is common to hear Chinese businesspeople say that no significant commercial relations can take place between them and Latin America until major airlines decide to open direct routes.
Flying from anywhere in the Spanish-speaking world (both Latin America and Spain) to China has long been a process riddled with complications.
There are only a handful of direct flights between Asia – never mind China – and that part of the world, most between Mexico City and Tokyo or Seoul.
Chinese businesspeople wishing to travel to Latin America must go to the US – and run the immigration gauntlet that now requires travelers to hold a valid visa just to change planes – or Europe and take a connecting flight.
While several major European airlines are pressing ahead with plans to serve more Chinese cities more often, Europe's Latin countries, notably Spain and Portugal, are not among them. On the contrary, their airlines may be heading in the opposite direction.
Dying Latin links
This month, Spain's Air Europa severed a route between Madrid and Beijing that opened with much fanfare just a year and a half ago.
According to Globia Group, Air Europa's major shareholder, the airline pulled out of what is set to become the world's largest aviation market because the route is just not profitable.
For a while, Air Europa tried to fly twice a month to China. Then, it reduced the frequency during summer. In September, the company decided that it could not compete with KLM, Air France or British Airways; or against Chinese carriers.
The last flight between Beijing and the Spanish capital took place on October 30. The company has said it will start flying to Rio de Janeiro instead.
According to Jim Eckes, a top Asia aviation consultant, Air Europa made the right decision because the competition is becoming far too tough.
"Chinese airlines fly to most major cities in Europe that Air Europa flies to," he said. "They offer cheap fares non-stop to China."
As for Air Europa's European rivals, location does Madrid no favors in a market that is also increasingly competitive.
"There is not that much traffic between northern China and Spain, and Air Europa does not have a route system to collect traffic and divest it to China," said Eckes. "Spain is on the coast and to fly east from, say, Paris and then fly west to Beijing is a hard sell."
Air Europa's move suggests that air links between the Iberian Peninsula and China are simply unfeasible nowadays – while fashionable, flying to China doesn't make financial sense. No Portuguese airline flies direct to their long-time former colony of Macau.
Air Plus Comet, another Spanish airline owned by the Marsans Group, is one more example of this trend. It tried to establish itself as a trustworthy player in the China market, but it only lasted a few months before stopping operations.
Lots of Spanish-speaking countries in Europe and Latin America are working hard to develop sustainable open-sky agreements with China.
Whether the airlines will be able to build sustainable markets and make good use of those agreements is still unknown.
If they don't, the biggest aviation market in the world will go on without them and business people will have to make do with a trip to the US, Frankfurt, London or Amsterdam to change planes.
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