China Southern Airlines' 60 per cent-owned subsidiary Xiamen Airlines will be among the first to take advantage of direct links between the mainland and Taiwan by launching cross-strait flights at a frequency of up to one per hour.
'Some 24 years ago, Xiamen Airlines was founded to implement the historical duty of direct flights [across the Taiwan Strait],' Hu Bin, the general manager of passenger marketing for the regional carrier, said yesterday on the sidelines of the International Air Traffic Association annual meeting. 'Now is the time.'
The airline, with a consecutive 22-year profit track record, said it would use 10 Boeing 737-800s on the route.
Although the occasional chartered flights between the mainland and Taiwan during Chinese festivals show greater demand between Taiwan and Shanghai, the carrier is confident there is sufficient traffic in Xiamen to make it a key player.
'Taiwan is our main focus as Xiamen is the nearest point between the mainland and the island,' said Mr Hu, who believes that direct links between the two could be established by next month.
He outlined plans to increase the flight frequency to hourly on the Xiamen to Taipei route, every 90 minutes to Taichung and every two hours to Kaohsiung.
The carrier will receive its first B737-800 next year. The firm will expand its fleet to 69 aircraft in 2010 from 47 and up to 130 planes by 2015.
Financially sound and with a net gain from interest income last year, Xiamen Airlines will have no problem getting aircraft financing.
However, the carrier is not immune to fuel cost pressures. Mr Hu said he was prepared for domestic jet fuel prices to rise to international levels, climbing 1,000 yuan (HK$1,127) to 8,000 yuan per tonne.
'We have to fly our aircraft higher where the air is thinner and causes less friction with the aircraft to save on fuel,' he said.
The airline also will turn down carriage of low-margin air cargo to save on jet fuel.