SAN JOSE — On September 1st, Air China inaugurated their three-time weekly service between Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) and Shanghai-Pudong International Airport (PVG). This marks the first flight to Shanghai in the history of the airport, and is now the longest scheduled flight from SJC.
San Jose is Air China’s 10th gateway in the Americas along with Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO), New York (JFK), Newark (EWR), Washington D.C. (IAD), Houston (IAH), Honolulu (HNL), Vancouver (YVR), and Montreal (YUL), but it is the first destination in North America from which they are serving PVG.
At 10:26 PST, flight CA829, operated by an Airbus A330-200 (B-5927 • MSN 1444), touched down on Runway 30L. After a very slow taxi, it was greeted with a water cannon salute by the San Jose Airport Fire Rescue Department (SJAFRD) at Gate 18, which was in lieu of the regularly scheduled, federally-mandated weekly drill.
Chinese Consul General Luo Linquan noted the auspicious gate number this flight used, “because this flight departs from Gate 18, it will bring fortune to Air China.”
Guests were then treated to a lion dance performance, embracing the Chinese culture. It was then followed by speeches from representatives of the organizations who made the flight possible. Speakers included SJC’s Director of Aviation, Kim Becker, Mayor of San Jose, Sam Liccardo, Vice Chairman of Air China, Cao Jianxiong, and Chinese Consul General Luo Linquan.
Ceremonies concluded with the ribbon cutting, signifying the official launch of service to PVG. Both the inbound and the outbound had full economy class (207 seats) with a few business class seats open.
“We congratulate Air China on inaugurating nonstop service between San Jose and Shanghai today, and for marking an additional milestone in launching its first flight from Shanghai to North America, via Silicon Valley’s airport,” Sam Liccardo said. “Our technology companies have enthusiastically asked for this nonstop service, and I know through their support this flight to China’s major center of commerce will be a success.”
Kim Becker added, “Shanghai ranked in the top five most requested international business destinations by Silicon Valley travelers in a corporate survey conducted by SJC’s community partners, and our community is delighted this flight is now offered at SJC.” Kim Becker estimates that this flight will bring an estimated $65 million in economic investment to Silicon Valley.
Air China becomes the second airline to fly from SJC to China. Hainan Airlines has flown from SJC to Beijing (PEK) since June 2015.
Dr. Zhihang Chi, Air China’s Vice President of North America, had been conducting informal discussions since 2011 with SJC’s former Air Service Development Manager, Ed Nelson, about serving the airport. He noted that, three years ago, Air China looked to expand their Shanghai hub with a flight to North America, and he wanted the initial flight to be to the West Coast of the United States or Canada. Since most cities already had a flight to Shanghai (only one Chinese airline can operate a route to America), he knew that he needed a city that was underserved.
Dr Chi observed that that many Silicon Valley companies have “set up shop” in Shanghai and as a result there is a natural connection between the two cities that other airlines have overlooked. “Linking two forward-looking cities is a fulfillment of our company’s mission of promoting economic growth and connectivity. The inter-dependence of two of the world’s largest economies makes the San Jose-Shanghai service a compelling case in this age of globalization,” says Dr. Chi.
This route was initially given DOT approval in March. However, due to complications with the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) the route wasn’t formally announced until mid-June. This was very close to the start date in the original DOT application.
Air China marks the fourth international carrier to arrive at SJC in the last four months. On May 5th, British Airways began service to London-Heathrow (LHR) with a daily B787-9. On May 9th, Air Canada began twice-daily service to YVR using Jazz Air CRJ-705s for the route. And finally, on July 1st, Lufthansa began five-time weekly flight to Frankfurt (FRA) on-board an Airbus A340-300.
San Jose, the 10th largest city in the USA, also happens to be one of the wealthiest cities in the country due to the tech-boom of Silicon Valley. Therefore, the “time is money” axiom proves true. Dr. Chi reminded Airways that SJC is a quiet airport with good weather and fast customs and immigration processing, and customers from the South Bay will be “spared the pain of getting stuck in traffic” on Highway 101.
Travelers also avoid the long security lines and fog-related delays associated with SFO. Indeed, this was the exact sentiment conversing with a couple traveling on the inaugural flight. They remarked that it only took 15 minutes from their home to SJC. They avoided traffic as well as long security lines at SFO. In addition, they loved how they no longer have to deal with the hassles of connecting in PEK.
Dr Chi hopes that customers will make use of the SJC flights and he would like to ultimately make it a daily service. Currently, Air China must contend with limitations in the number of US-China flights permitted under the current bilateral agreement between the two countries as well as a shortage of aircraft.
Despite these issues and completion from SFO, both Air China and SJC believe that this route will be a success, especially due to the large number Star Alliance travelers throughout the Bay Area. Only time will tell!