British Airways (BA) has confirmed that it is in discussions with China Eastern and China Southern carriers over code-sharing flights between Europe and China. The move to partner with these state-owned airlines comes as BA aims to now seek a larger pie of the growing Chinese travel boom. Its network between Europe and the world's second-largest economy will get a boost if these talks materialise.
Willie Walsh, CEO of BA owner International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG), said he hoped to have some of these code-share agreements inked in 2016. "We've been for some time in discussions with China Eastern and China Southern with the view to code-sharing with British Airways and we're optimistic that we'll make progress there," Walsh said.
The CEO said that while they had met informally for many years, they had initiated "formal discussions over the past couple of months". Walsh added his company was seeking such partnerships outside the Oneworld alliance because of the absence of a domestic Chinese airline company in the alliance.
With regards to the IAG's inorganic growth plans in Asia or in Europe to increase the number of connecting flights between the two regions, Walsh said they had no such plans. "Our strategy within Asia is organic growth," he said.
Walsh, however, said the IAG could consider expanding the operations of its flag carrier airline in Ireland through Aer Lingus. This comes amid the increased trade activity Ireland is witnessing with China and Japan.
BA, which has been offering flights from Heathrow to Beijing and Shanghai, has added new destinations such as China's Chengdu in recent years. Currently, it has twice daily services between Hong Kong and Heathrow, daily services from Heathrow to Beijing, 10 weekly flights to Shanghai and up to five weekly services to Chengdu. Walsh said BA would not launch any more destinations in China.
Implying that the UK government too had a role to play in increasing the number of flights to and from China, Walsh said the UK had to do more to boost tourism in the country for Chinese nationals such as relaxing the visa procedures. "What we have to do in the UK is to make sure that the UK is getting its fair share of those tourists... because it's much easier for Chinese tour groups to travel under a schengen visa into other parts of Europe than it is to travel into the UK," Walsh added.