#EHviationEvent: Huānyíng Hainan! Welcome to Vancouver!

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Vancouver Airport (YVR): Hainan Airlines 7959, from Shenzhen via Tianjin, arrived in Vancouver under sunny skies an hour ahead of schedule. (Photo: John Jamieson, 05/25/2018)

Huānyíng Hainan! 

On May 25th, 2018, YVR’s traditional water cannon salute signaled the arrival of Hainan Airlines flight 7959 from Shenzhen (via Tianjin). There must have been some Chinese Fortune shining on the airport as the Honoured guests and media representatives were able to enjoy Hainan’s stunning livery under sunny skies. YVR’s newest airline partner has now become the 8th carrier (including Air Canada) to connect YVR with mainland China. The Haikou based carrier has clearly been paying attention: over the past 5 years, YVR has been one of the fastest growing airports in North America while also being consistently regarded as one of the best in the region (according to the UK’s Skytrax Consultancy).

The airport has taken great strides towards becoming a global hub. Between 2013 and 2017, Canada’s second largest airport (by passenger volume) saw its passenger throughput increase from 17.5 million to a record-setting 24.1 million. To put this in perspective, it had previously taken YVR almost 20 years (1994-2012) to achieve similar growth. At the start of that period, Canadian Airlines was still Air Canada’s largest competitor, WestJet was 2 years away from its inaugural flight, and the Vancouver Canucks had yet to win a Stanley Cup (just a minute, that still hasn’t happened… hmm…one day maybe. In Bo we trust).

While it may seem like this growth has happened overnight, a significant amount of work has taken place behind the scene. Prior to the appointment of Craig Richmond (YVR’s current president and CEO) in 2013, network analysts at YVR were already planning ahead for major growth.

Over the years, the airport has become increasingly attractive to foreign carriers. Since YVR implemented their Connect YVR program and began integrating their marketing strategies with local tourist boards, YVR has become an attractive Gateway to North America. Also, when one considers their terminal improvements, which are designed to expedite the transfer process, YVR has positioned itself for the future.  From Hainan Airline’s perspective, YVR was clearly an important market which couldn’t remain off the map.

However, with China’s restrictive “One Airline One Route” policy firmly in place (See Below), Hainan Airlines had to make an important decision. With many of the important Business and VFR (Visiting Friends & Relatives) markets such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou off the table, Hainan needed to examine some of China’s secondary cities to see if they could profitably serve Vancouver. Ultimately the airline decided on connecting two cities with YVR: Shenzhen– a crucial financial center immediately north of HongKong and Tianjin– a major SeaPort located on the North Coast of China 100 Km ~ east of  Beijing. Based on current information, it would appear that Hainan has chosen wisely; Beijing and Hong Kong are two of Vancouver’s busiest international destinations.

Before I get too deep into the analysis of the route, it would be a shame to skip over the fantastic gate party put on by the airport and Hainan airlines. While I did my best to take everything in, the adrenaline rush of gaining access definitely affected my ability to focus on the speeches and economic messages discussed; as such, I’ve decided to include my own recollections along with a few important points from the official PR statement.

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While this was a Hainan media event, I wasn’t about to miss an opportunity to capture a close up of Air Canada’s new livery. (Photo: May 25th/18, John Jamieson, YVR)

Due to favorable winds, the inbound flight from Tianjin arrived an hour ahead of schedule; unfortunately, by the time I arrived at the airport, the aircraft had already arrived and the water cannon salute had been performed. After parking my car, I quickly made my way to Hainan Airlines’ check-in area. Having driven an hour across town, I felt there was no harm asking if there was an official gate event. While I had no major credentials, I had been in contact with YVR’s social media team in advance of the inaugural and hoped to stumble across someone I knew.

Thankfully I had remembered to bring one of my EHviation business cards; while it may have made no difference, I perceived it to be the #TSNTurningPoint of the day. The people at the registration desk quickly contacted Chris from YVR’s social media team and within a few minutes I was given a media badge and escorted through to the international terminal. With the official event scheduled for 10:30, I had a few minutes to grab a coffee and interact with the invited guests.

In the time before the media event, I was able to learn some new information about Hainan’s new route and YVR’s international aspirations:

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HU 7960 (Aircraft: Boeing 787-8, Registration: B-2750) Departing off RWY 08R on the inaugural YVR-Tianjin/Shenzhen route. (Photo: John Jamieson, 05/25/2018/ YVR)
  • Anne Murray, YVR’s Vice President of Airline Business Development and Public Affairs
    • After introducing myself and explaining my interest in the Hainan inaugural, Anne was able to inform me that Hainan had taken one of the few remaining slots available to Chinese Carriers.
    • Owing to the limits of the current Canada-China Bilateral, I learned that both countries have access to 63 weekly slots nationwide.
      • While there has been considerable interest from the Chinese Side, Air Canada has only ventured into a small handful of dense Chinese markets.
      • As there is a limit on capacity, a number of airlines have started examing their fleet options to Canada.
    • When I mentioned that I had an interest in WestJet’s proposed long-haul expansion, Anne was able to reveal to me that YVR is not the only party interested in WestJet’s expansion. With the slots available, and Chinese code-share connections already in place, I would be surprised if WestJet didn’t enter the Chinese Market.
  • Monica LeeckDestination British Columbia‘s Market Development Manager for Asia
    • I met Monica while she was capturing a picture of the Celebratory Cake. When I asked how much work had gone into the overseas marketing, she was able to inform me that the Destination BC team had been hard at work in Shenzhen and Tianjin promoting Vancouver and British Columbia’s vast attractions.
    • Speaking with Monica made me appreciate the ripple effects of the new route on BC’s economy and tourism sectors. As this was something which would be discussed later in the event, I waited to hear more.

By 10:30 (PST) the event was ready to begin. Once again, while I did my best to take in all the information, I may need to revert to the official Press Release for some of the finer details.

The choreographed opening, which was performed by 4 beautifully attired Chinese dancers, quickly drew the attention of the tv cameras and assembled media personalities. Once again I was reminded that I was a small fish in a large pond: this event was being celebrated on a major scale.

Hainan is China’s largest privately owned airline and they clearly see Canada as an important market for their passengers. While I wish I could offer further comment on the dance, I’d remind my readers that I’m no dance expert: to the untrained eye, the performance was visually pleasing.

Following the ceremonial dance, it was time for the official speeches.

  • Craig Richmond, YVR’s current president & CEO:
    • Craig was quick to stress the importance of Hainan’s commitment to YVR in relation to the official China-Canada year of tourism (As announced in 2016 by Justin Trudeau and Li Keqiang).
      • While much of the route development may be linked to business travelers, as I learned from Monica, a significant portion of the Chinese travelers come to Canada for tourism.
    • CR also made note of the number of Chinese carriers serving YVR (Now up to 10 if you include the carriers serving the SARS provinces in China) and YVR’s recent efforts to develop their reputation as a connecting hub between Asia and the Americas.
    • Craig’s message was fairly clear: Hainan’s presence further demonstrates YVR’s global reach and solidifies the airport’s place alongside San Francisco and Seattle as major North American-Asian hubs.
  • George Chow, BC Minister of State for Trade,
    • Moving on from YVR’s perspective, the event progressed towards the inevitable discussion of how the new route will impact BC residents through trickle down economics.
      • While I used to perceive these figures as mere filler for the media (Lol the irony), it is important to discuss the potential economic impacts which should be created by the route.
      • As such, here are the words from Mr. Chow.
    • Speaking on behalf of the BC Government, Mr. Chow was able to draw on experts’ analysis and calculated statistics for portions of his statement.
      • According to the experts, the new route is expected to generate 12.4 million dollars (CAD) in economic output and 6 million (CAD) in GDP for BC.
    • Later in his speech, Mr. Chow also discussed how the new route will foster the creation of new jobs through the increased global connections.
      • While I’m in no position to comment on these statements, I do think that sometimes people tend to focus on the “raw numbers” while forgetting to ask questions about what jobs will be created and who will directly benefit from them.
    • This was the slightly predictable portion of the media event, and while it has its place, I was slightly more interested in Hainan’s take on their new route to Vancouver and how it would pertain to their existing code-share with WestJet. (Sorry for the honesty YVR)

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Once again, the official message was fairly predictable. When it came time for Hainan Airlines to speak about the new route, much of the material seemed fairly obvious.

Speaking on behalf of the airline, Yang Fei, Hainan’s General Manager of Marketing, discussed how the new route would offer Hainan passengers significant onward connections from Vancouver and enhance Hainan’s Canadian network.

I was slightly disappointed.

I was hoping that Mr. Fei would discuss the importance of Hainan’s codeshare partnership with WestJet and offer some hints as to the future of the partnership. While it has not been confirmed by the airline at present, it is likely that WestJet will use their new Dreamliners to expand into Asia. Also, based on the fact that the airline has upgraded its long-haul product to keep in line with its competition, one would expect the airline to look at strengthening ties with an Asian carrier to secure financial benefits.

The airlines have much in common. Both WestJet and Hainan have become the largest private airline in their respective countries, and both have invested heavily in modern, fuel efficient, aircraft to fuel their expansion. While a future joint venture may seem on the horizon, at the time I was only able to speculate.

When I asked Hainan’s media team (via Twitter) about any further strengthening of ties with WestJet, the team replied that despite the significance of WestJet’s new international Business class, it was unlikely that Hainan would progress beyond their current codeshare ties. (Note: Between the time of publishing and the Hainan Inaugural, I have obtained new information about WestJet’s potential Asian partner; hint, This may be something I address in a future post. 

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Before I conclude my piece on the Hainan Inaugural, I need to thank YVR.

  • From a personal standpoint, in addition to giving me the access to the event, the Airport has done it’s best, when possible, to spread my content through their social media platforms. Additionally, the airport has encouraged me to contact their media team should I require any additional information. I hope to continue partnering with them in the future.
  • From a community standpoint, YVR should be commended for their efforts in building ties with the local aviation population. As I discuss in my post about their “Spotters Picnic“, the airport has done a remarkable job of getting out into the community and meeting the people who make use of the airport on a regular basis.
  • These are the sort of things that make YVR the best in North America and one of the best worldwide. Thank You!

This was an amazing experience. Hainan Airlines and the Vancouver Airport put on a spectacular show for the media. My best wishes go to both parties! I hope I get the chance to cover another inaugural flight in future. Who knows, I may even be able to cover the in-flight portion!

 

 

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