((Yicai Global) June 17 -- A Hainan Airlines Co. [SHA:600221] A330 aircraft landed at the UK's Manchester airport on June 10 from Beijing, the first flight by a Chinese airline to a UK city other than London, as China's carriers lock horns over lucrative routes to Europe.
The Hainan-based airline seeks to challenge the dominance of Air China Ltd. [SHA:601111] [HKG:0753], China Eastern Airlines Corp. [SHA:600115], and China Southern Airlines Ltd. [SHA:600029]. It is also offering direct flights to Moscow from Tianjin.
Increasing numbers of Chinese are venturing abroad as the nation's middle class expands, with Europe and the US becoming more popular at the expense of Asian countries, which used to be the destinations of choice. Some 120 million Chinese went abroad last year, according to the World Tourism Organization.
The European routes of Air China, China Eastern and China Southern focus on the traditional hubs such as Frankfurt, Paris and London. Hainan Airlines' expansion of routes to cities other than these hubs has unnerved the big three.
Shanghai-based China Eastern said on June 6 that it has launched four direct flights from Shanghai to Prague, Amsterdam, Madrid and St. Petersburg. It is the first time for the airline to open four European routes in a month. China Southern, headquartered in Guangzhou, said its Guangzhou-Moscow flights would be upgraded to Airbus A380's from June 20, and flights from the western city of Lanzhou to St. Petersburg would increase to four a week.