World / China-South Africa

Air China launches 'Silk Road' links to South Africa, Ethiopia

By Yunus Kemp (China Daily Africa) Updated: 2015-08-30 13:55

Service to johannesburg, addis ababa part of airline's global expansion plan

Air China has announced a revised date for the launch of its "Silk Road in the air".

The national carrier says it will begin nonstop services between Beijing and Johannesburg on Oct 29, making it the first Chinese airline to operate flights between the Chinese mainland and South Africa.

 Air China launches 'Silk Road' links to South Africa, Ethiopia

China Southern Airlines made its maiden trip from Guangzhou to Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. The airline has teamed up with Kenya's flag carrier Kenya Airways and will be offering 20 flights per week on the new China-Kenya route. Provided to China Daily


The move means travelers from China and other nearby areas of Asia will be able to reach the southernmost tip of Africa in about 14 hours.

The announcement comes after South African Airlines halted direct flights on the route in May. Nhlanhla Nene, the South African finance minister, says the decision was due to cost-cutting measures.

Air China also plans to launch services to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia on Nov 2 as part of its global expansion.

Johannesburg is South Africa's biggest city and its economic hub, while Ethiopia has one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with its GDP expected to reach double digits again this year after a sustained period of fiscal and infrastructure construction progress over the past decade. Ethiopia also has one of the largest and most modern fleets of commercial aircraft in Africa.

"The two routes are part of Air China's endeavor to build a global route network with a hub in Beijing, as well as to make it easier for travelers from countries like China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore to travel to and from South Africa and Africa as a whole," Air China says in a statement.

The airline says the service means Chinese travelers to South Africa will no longer need to transfer en route.

China's friendly relationship with Africa dates back to Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Today, the Belt and Road Initiative by the Chinese government promises to bring new opportunities for cooperation, a statement from the airline says.

"Air China's Beijing-Johannesburg service will be a Silk Road in the air," the airline says, adding that the service will be a new bridge for international collaboration, bringing Asia and Africa closer and facilitating greater exchanges.

Founded in 1886, Johannesburg is in the world's largest gold zone and is the epicenter of South Africa's economic activities, accounting for about half of its industrial output. Some call it the "City of Gold", while others refer to it as the "New York of Africa".

The city is home to the world-famous Kruger National Park, while Johannesburg Zoo, its bird sanctuaries and diamond factories are also popular draws for tourists.

However, Johannesburg has some way to go to shake off its reputation as South Africa's crime capital. On Aug 7, a business delegation from Zhejiang province was robbed of several hundred thousand yuan shortly after leaving OR Tambo International Airport when their van was blocked off by three cars. The Chinese consulate in Johannesburg reports that some of the members of the delegation received minor injuries.

South African authorities are investigating, but the incident will be a stark reminder to them that the security of foreigners is vital if the city is to attract more tourists and other visitors from the East and elsewhere.

Air China delayed the launch of its nonstop flight to Johannesburg earlier this year due to xenophobic attacks in South Africa as well as the country's new visa regulations, which require travelers under 18 entering or leaving South Africa to produce an unabridged birth certificate. In addition, Chinese need to go to one of two centers - in Beijing or Shanghai - to have biometric data recorded before a visa can be issued.

The South African government says it will endeavor to make the service more accessible in China.

Security and visa issues notwithstanding, South Africa accounts for about one-third of Africa's GDP and continues to be a spearhead for the continent's economy. It is also China's biggest trading partner in Africa.

In July, South African Vice-President Cyril Ramaphosa told a China-South Africa Business Forum in Beijing that his country regarded China as a "vehicle to drive the African agenda of continental growth and development".

Shortly after Ramaphosa's visit, Air China indicated it would launch a nonstop flight but did not provide additional details at the time.

Latest statistics from Chinese customs authorities show the China-Africa import and export volume reached an all-time high of $221.88 billion in 2014, up 5.5 percent on the previous year.

Air China says it will continue to build its international presence this year by launching more international routes than ever before.

In addition to announcing plans for the Johannesburg and Addis Ababa routes, the airline launched services between Chengdu and Colombo in February; Hangzhou and Osaka in March; Tianjin, Dalian and Sapporo in April; Beijing, Minsk and Budapest in May; Beijing and Melbourne in June; and Beijing and Hakodate in July.

"These services have made Air China one of the few carriers in the world that serves all six continents, and the only Chinese carrier that does so," the company says.

As of July, Air China had a fleet of 523 passenger aircraft and freighters, mainly Boeing and Airbus, including carriers in which the airline has a majority stake.

The airline operates 349 routes - 87 international, 16 regional, and 246 domestic - and serves 168 cities in 35 countries and regions. Combined, the airline offers more than 1.47 million seats on over 7,700 flights a week.

Air China ranked as one of the world's top 500 brands in 2013, with a brand value of 91.8 billion yuan ($14.3 billion). It was the only Chinese carrier to make the list.

For China Daily

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