Guangzhou-based 9 Air joins China's budding budget airline field

Latest mainland entrant in low-cost carrier field takes to the skies after changing original route

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 January, 2015, 7:10pm
UPDATED : Friday, 16 January, 2015, 11:56am

A new low-cost carrier, 9 Air, took to the skies yesterday in a wave of take-offs for budget carriers on the mainland.

The much anticipated 9 Air, which derives its name from the eye-catching nine yuan (HK$11.40) tag on some of its air tickets, went into operation yesterday after signing a US$6 billion contract to buy 50 planes from Boeing in May, the biggest single purchase for a private airline in China.

The Guangzhou-based carrier is a subsidiary of Juneyao Airlines owned by Juneyao Group, which is seeking to become the sixth listed airline on the mainland after leading budget carrier Spring Airlines completed its share offering this week.

So far the only route 9 Air is offering is a daily six-hour flight from Guangzhou to Harbin with a stopover in Wenzhou, instead of the originally advertised one-hour flight between Guangzhou and Zhanjiang, also in Guangdong province. Huang Hui, a spokesman for the airline, said the inaugural route was changed because the only pair of slots it managed to get at Guangzhou's busy Baiyun airport were a 6.55am departure and a 1am landing, which would not be economical for a short haul route.

He said Harbin is traditionally a popular winter destination while Wenzhou, with its high concentration of small business owners, has many people travelling to and from Guangzhou.

"We are targeting price-sensitive passengers and we believe there is a huge market for us as there is no low-cost carrier serving central and southern China," Huang told the South China Morning Post.

Direct flights between Guangzhou and Harbin, which all existing mainstream airlines offer, take four hours while the same journey by train takes more than 33 hours.

The spokesman said 9 Air has limited offers for the nine yuan ticket and aims to provide airfares 20-30 per cent cheaper than competitors. Random price comparisons, however, show other airlines are offering return flights between Guangzhou and Harbin via Wenzhou for similar prices.

Qi Qi, a Guangzhou-based aviation expert, said he was "not optimistic" about 9 Air's market prospects. "If they really want to be low-cost, they should be based in second- or third-tier cities where low-cost carriers are really needed and where costs can really be low, not Guangzhou."

9 Air said it has two Boeing 737-800s in place and will take delivery of five more within the year. The remaining 43 Boeing 737 planes on order will be delivered before 2020.