VANCOUVER — On Monday, July 25th, a XiamenAir Boeing 787-8 touched down gracefully on Vancouver International Airport’s (YVR) runway 26R, marking the carriers inaugural service to Canada’s West Coast Asia-Pacific gateway. The landing at YVR not only marked the carrier’s 32nd birthday, but also its entry into the North American market.
Thanks to an eastbound flightpath that crosses the International Date Line, the over-6,100 mile flight from the airline’s namesake city departed Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport (XMN) at 21:30 local on Monday, arriving at YVR at 18:35, the same day.
The return flight was scheduled to leave YVR at 01:45 early Tuesday morning, and arrive in XMN at 05:30, Wednesday morning. Scheduled flight times are 12 hours 10 minutes westbound, and 12 hours, 50 minutes eastbound, with three days per week service on the route.
After deplaning and clearing Canadian customs and immigration, airline and airport executives, government dignitaries, passengers, and the traveling public enjoyed a combined inaugural and birthday celebration in the pre-security area of YVR’s International Terminal.
The event, with traditional Chinese music and Lion Dance, speeches, gifts and formalities, took place beside the dramatic The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, the Jade Canoe, by Haida sculpture artist Bill Reid.
XiamenAir’s 787s are configured with four lie-flat First Class pods, 18 lie-flat Business Class seats, and 215 Economy Class seats. Given the long-haul mission, the Wi-Fi-enabled aircraft are equipped with Panasonic’s eX3 In-flight Entertainment System with over 700 hours of content.
“XiamenAir has one of the largest all-Boeing fleets, currently with 160 aircraft,” says Xu Minghui, senior vice-president of passenger marketing and sales committee. “By the end of 2020, our target is to have a fleet of 300 Boeing aircraft. We have an ambitious plan.”
The majority of XiamenAir’s fleet is made up of narrow-body 737-700/800s, and 757-200s, with 737 MAXs on order. The airline’s six 787-8s will be joined by six on-order 787-9s.
The Dreamliners are driving the SkyTeam alliance carrier’s international expansion, tailored for the airline’s “long, thin” long-haul route structure. In September 2016, flights are scheduled to begin from XMN to Seattle (SEA) via Shenzhen (SZX).
Pending final approvals, Xiamen plans to use 787-9s to begin service to New York (JFK) next February, and Los Angeles (LAX) in June, 2017. Since Fall 2015, the airline has been flying to Amsterdam (AMS), Sydney (SYD), and Melbourne (MEL).
Domestically, XiamenAir serves China’s major cities, along with regional flights to Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and other Southeast Asian markets. The airline has “more than 280 routes, 3,500 flights per week, and 26 million passengers chose to fly with us last year,” says vice-president Zhou Weidong.
“We’re very proud that YVR is XiamenAir’s first North American destination,” says Craig Richmond, YVR president and CEO. “This means we’re not only connected to a great new destination, we’re also the only airport in the Americas and Europe to be served by five mainland Chinese air carriers.”
XiamenAir joins Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, and Sichuan Airlines with service to YVR. All of these carriers add choice for passengers, but new competition for Air Canada, which starting with predecessor CP Air/Canadian Pacific Airlines, has served the Chinese market for decades. And this slate of airlines may expand. Richmond adds, “We’re in active conversations with other Chinese mainland carriers.”
Operating since 1984, XiamenAir claims to be the only Chinese civil airline that has been profitable for 29 consecutive years. It’s the country’s sixth largest airline, and in the incestuous and convoluted world of China’s airline ownership, 55% of XiamenAir is owned by fellow-SkyTeam member China Southern Airlines. In turn, XiamenAir has almost full ownership of Hebei Airlines, and owns a 60% stake of recently-launched Jiangxi Airlines.
XiamenAir has a vision to “be an internationally recognized brand-name airline, to make the airline the preferred choice for customers, and to become a top-class airline in the Asia-Pacific region.” The airline is working towards this goal, having won “Best Airline in Mainland China” for the past three years, and received the highest honor for service in 2016, winning the China Quality Award.
With its service to YVR now launched, the “Soaring Egret in the Blue Sky” may become a familiar sight in North America.