The last twelve months for Boston Logan Airport have been important in terms of international route growth. Logan has added four new carriers Copa, Emirates, Turkish and now Hainan Airlines. There would have been a fifth but Wow Air out of Reykjavik has shelved their plans to fly to Boston for now. One of the most important and anticipated additions is certainly Hainan.
North American passengers probably haven’t heard much about Hainan, but like other Chinese carriers they are growing fast. With the addition of a Chinese carrier, Boston is solidifying itself as a top destination for business and leisure travel. Boston was one of the top US markets not to have a flight to mainland China, not capitalizing on the immense wealth growth of Chinese nationals. Connecting the large population of Chinese residence and immigrants in the Boston area has long been a target on the radar of politicians and businesses. Hainan Airlines is here to fill that need.
Hainan Airlines was founded in 1993. The fourth largest Chinese airline, it is the only one not owned primarily by the Chinese government. Their main hubs are Beijing and Haikou which is the capital of the Hainan province. Currently, Hainan does not belong to any alliance but is rumored to be in talks with Oneworld. They operate 130 aircraft, including eight Boeing 787’s and serve 90 destinations throughout the world. Their frequent flyer program is called Fortune Wings Club which allows members to accrue miles through their code share agreements with partner airlines like Ethiad and American Airlines. They are known for being the top customer service airline in China and were rewarded by Sky Trax as the only Chinese airline to receive five stars. This rating has come under some scrutiny as it is alleged Sky Trax now requires arilines to pay for better star ratings.
On June 20, the Chinese carrier began four-times-a-week 787-8 service between Beijing and Boston, a 6,737 flight that passes over the North Pole. Hainan project that by August the flights will be daily. Flight 481 touched down at Logan this past Friday after 13 hours, having shaved about six hours off of current travel between the two cities. Flight 482 left the Massachusetts capital later Friday and was scheduled to arrive in Beijing Saturday evening. The 787-8 is flown in a two class configuration, the highlights of the aircraft and service include:
- 36 flat bed Business Class seats with 74″ pitch and 22.5″ width
- 177 standard Economy Class seats with 31″ pitch and 17″ width
- A 15″ inch personalized entertainment system in both cabins, with a selection of approximately 50 movies
- 110v AC power ports are available at all Business and Economy class seats. There are also USB ports available in Business.
- Complimentary meals, alcoholic beverages, and soft drinks.
787 Coming of Age
After a rocky start to its life with battery fires and electrical system issues, the 787 is finally hitting its strides and being put to use on the proper routes. The Boston – Beijing route, on paper is the perfect route to support the capacity of the 787. Boston to China has demand but not as much as say NYC or DC, requiring a smaller aircraft that can still cover long distances. While aircraft like the A340 or the 777 might be to large to fill, the 787 with its increased fuel efficiency can carry smaller loads. The Hainan 787 will carry 213 passengers, instead of 280 plus that a 777 or A340 would hold. The increased range of the 787 enables connections of cities that 5 to 10 years ago would not have been possible. Due to the advancement in aviation technologies with the 787, Boston can now look to connect itself with larger hubs in Asia like Hong Kong or Seoul. Sadly, this falls in line with the notion that jumbo jets like the A380 and 747 are on their way out.
A Win for Boston and Logan
On the surface this looks like a big win for Boston. With a large influx of Chinese students to the various universities in and around Boston along with the over 150,000 Chinese visitors yearly to Boston, the capacity for the 787 is there. Hainan is projecting by August 2014 they will be carrying around 5,000 passengers between Boston and Beijing when they increase the flights to seven days a week. Ed Freni director of Aviation at Logan has stated that 400,000 people fly annually from Boston to Asia and believes Hainan can fill a large portion of that need. He also stated that he is in talks with all the airlines that serve China, in hopes to add more routes.
Hainan has done their homework and selected Boston because they see the capacity potential and the 787 can give the route the best chance to be profitable. They should be able to get off the ground in a hurry, due to lack of competition from other airlines. I did a quick search in July for BOS-PEK and Hainan came in the lowest at $766 one-way. Its a great deal for a direct flight to China, hopefully the prices will stay low even after the honeymoon period. If the route does prove successful, I can see competition growing quickly.
This deal shapes up well for both sides, Massport will reap the benefits of a profitable tenant and Hainan should be able to fill the seats. The next few months will show if demand meets expectation and if the price points remain competitive. The aviation enthusiast in me loves expanding route networks, so personally I hope Hainan work out in Boston. If Copa, Emirates and Turkish can survive in Boston, I see no reason why Hainan can’t succeed.