China Eastern Airlines
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- 2550 Hongqiao Road, Hongqiao International Airport
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- Shanghai Pudong Airport
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Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines is one of China's 'big three' state-owned airlines, with hubs at Shanghai's Pudong and Hongqiao airports, as well as Kunming Airport in southwest China. The airline operates a fleet of Airbus, Boeing, Embraer and Bombardier aircraft to support an extensive network, serving over 350 domestic routes and 40 international destinations, including cities in Australia, Europe, Korea, Japan, North America and Southeast Asia. China Eastern merged with Shanghai Airlines in 2010 and joined China Southern in the SkyTeam Alliance in Jun-2011.
Location of China Eastern Airlines main hub (Shanghai Pudong Airport)
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Aviation has yet to define India’s role in the trans-Pacific growth story. Geography allows connections from North America to India via Europe, the Gulf and – more quietly – Northeast Asia. Northeast Asian airlines have a theoretical advantage linking India with the North American west coast. The challenge they face is fitting a square peg into a round hole.
The presence of Northeast Asian airlines is large in North America but small in India, while Southeast Asian airlines are small in North America but large in India. Cathay Pacific, and to a lesser extent All Nippon Airways, are in the strategic sweet spot, relatively. Growing China-India relations could result in Chinese airlines playing a larger role in this market. The different transit regions available mean that there is competition between partnerships and joint ventures. These pressures could grow as the Indian market continues expanding.
Asia aviation outlook: high demand, low fuel, but overcapacity and uncertainty (Brexit) hurt profits
Asian aviation should be experiencing boom times. So why isn't it? The region is unique for alignment of three key factors: low fuel, high demand and geopolitical stability. Yet financially the market is subdued, largely the result of overcapacity at most airlines. There are some special features too: Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines' benefit from low fuel prices has been muted by to hedging, currency swings have hurt the financials of Chinese and Korean airlines.
Strategically most airlines in Asia remain confident of long term opportunities but identify short term challenges, starting with overcapacity. The region's growth is above the IATA average, but financial performance is below. Airlines are watching Europe to see if demand has plateaued or will further weaken due to security concerns. Freight – especially important at Northeast Asian airlines – is facing its usual challenges. New consumer electronics – iPhone 7, for example – may deliver a short-term boost, but will not be as high or profitable as it used to be. The collapse of Hanjin container shipping might deliver some relief, but not on the scale of the 2015 US port closure.
China Southern Airlines may be Asia's largest airline, but it has one of the smallest long haul networks. China Southern has shifted growth to international markets, which represented only 17% of capacity in 2009 but doubled to 34% in 2016. Its long haul plank has been Australia and New Zealand, funnelling traffic from around China down to its southern hub at Guangzhou. China Southern has met its objectives for Australia/NZ and now turns its focus to the market that has preoccupied most other Northeast Asian airlines: North America.
China Southern plans to increase flights from five daily to 11 daily, about the size that ANA is today – and larger than Air China and China Eastern. Although China Southern can build on the principle of using Guangzhou as a North-South hub, North America is a radically different proposition. Guangzhou's southern positioning limits exposure to the Chinese market that China Southern knows best. China Southern will need to target connections to Southeast Asia and India, which have only been a small component of Air China and China Eastern's network.
Part 1 of this report on Aeroflot's connecting sixth freedom traffic noted that Aeroflot is the 13th largest carrier of passengers between Western Europe and Northeast Asia, whereas Finnair – whose "Nordic Shortcut" strategy is well-known – is slightly larger and is the 10th largest operator. After Emirates, Aeroflot is the largest airline flying passengers between the regions but is not based in either of them; all the other operators are Western European or Northeast Asian airlines.
This second and final part examines Aeroflot's growing connecting market in depth. Of the airline's connecting Western Europe-Northeast Asian passengers, 54% are travelling to/from mainland China. This correlates with the share of Aeroflot capacity allocated to China. Among Finnair, Turkish and the Gulf 3 "superconnectors", Aeroflot has the fewest destinations in Northeast Asia. Yet its frequency in prime Chinese cities is unmatched. Aeroflot has the benefit of good aeropolitical relations with China while benefitting from other airlines being restricted over Chinese airspace. This may appear to be a short term advantage that will reduce as competition grows.
Yet a review of the city pairs where Aeroflot is the strongest on transfer traffic indicates growth opportunities as more markets are incorporated into JVs and complacency settles in. This may increase already tense relations between Aeroflot and its SkyTeam partners. Pursuing stronger transfer traffic will be a delicate decision for Aeroflot management.
Jetstar Japan and Peach Aviation have received air traffic rights for China which, if utilised, would grow the Japanese LCC footprint in China – Japan's largest visitor source market. Spring Japan became the first Japanese LCC to serve China in Feb-2016. The absence of Japanese LCCs in China may seem surprising, but there are regulatory hurdles, market access questions and conservatism at Japanese LCCs. AirAsia Japan, launching in 2017, will likely leverage the group's China experience; it is the largest non-greater China airline group serving China.
The prospect of further growth comes as incumbents cite overcapacity. What was once a profitable market now only produces returns in the peaks. All Nippon Airways, the largest airline between Japan and China, reported lower revenue on the back of "a deterioration in the supply-demand environment". Spring China has told Bloomberg that some competitors "aren't well-prepared", and will be "phased out". Overall Japanese LCC routes and capacity may be small but will be watched by Chinese airlines, ever mindful of the need to find new business models.
Growth in Chinese aviation is now well evident in the number of Chinese operators of widebody aircraft. In early 2012 only five Chinese airlines operated widebody aircraft. The Jun-2016 delivery of an A330 to Tibet Airlines increased the number of widebody operators to 10, and by the end of the decade there will be – if all plans are followed through – at least 17 Chinese airlines operating widebody aircraft. This potentially sets up the market for more widebody and long haul airlines within China than in the rest of Northeast and Southeast Asia.
At the Farnborough Airshow Donghai Airlines and Ruili Airlines sought to acquire 787-9s, while Lucky Air will also take 787-9s and become China's first long haul LCC. Shenzhen Airlines will take A330s, while Juneyao, Okay Airways and Shandong Airlines are also considering the type.
There are also possible new entrants like Qingdao Airlines, whose shareholder Nanshan Group now owns Virgin Australia. Widebodies at Donghai, Ruili, Juneyao or others would mean a widebody operation from an airline not affiliated with one of China's four airline groups: Air China, China Eastern, China Southern and Hainan Airlines. The smallest of these, Hainan Airlines, operates more widebodies than all the secondary and tertiary airlines combined.