MIAMI — China Southern Airlines will begin a new nonstop service between Wuhan, China and San Francisco this December, serving the route three times per week using Boeing 787-8 equipment. Asia’s largest carrier will begin operating between Wuhan and San Francisco on December 16, 2014 using the 228-seat Dreamliner configured with three classes ( 4F / 20J / 204Y ). The full routing for the aircraft will be Guangzhou – Wuhan – San Francisco, and flight schedules for the new service are as follow (hat-tip Airline Route):

CZ659 ~~ CAN – WUH – SFO ~~ D: 2030 A: 2225 — D: 2355 A: 2015 ~~ 246
CZ660 ~~ SFO – WUH – SFO ~~ D: 0015 A: 0615+1 — D: 0745+1 A: 0930+1~~ 357

* Note: Departure and arrival times at Wuhan are estimates

San Francisco is the fourth North American destination for Guangzhou-based China Southern, who also serves Los Angeles, New York JFK, and Vancouver. San Francisco had been on the radar for China Southern for some time now, however it was expected that the service would be from Guangzhou, which is China Southern’s largest hub.

However, the service was instead started from Wuhan, a city of about 10.2 million people in Hubei province, because the provincial capital offered substantial financial incentives. Wuhan is not one of the traditional long haul bases for flights to China, but it is very affluent, owing to its position as a trade and transit hub hub of China (it’s role in connecting road and rail networks across China has given it the moniker “The Chicago of China”). Wuhan does have long haul links to Paris Charles de Gaulle from Air France, and Moscow from China Southern. Both routes are backed by city and airport incentives, and the new route to San Francisco is also backed by substantial funding.

Given that Wuhan isn’t even at present one of the 200 largest international cities by origin and destination (O&D) demand from the San Francisco area (fewer than six passengers per day each way), even after market stimulation, the route is likely to require financial backing to survive. While Wuhan is a large focus city for China Southern, it has just 105 peak-day departures from China Southern and its subsidiaries, as compared to 335 at Guangzhou, which means that connectivity is comparatively limited.

China Southern has been struggling for some time with profitability in its long haul operation, which suffers from fierce competition and a poor-selling international first class product. The carrier has found some success in generating connecting volumes (particularly on the Kangaroo Route between Europe and Australia), but the difficulty (primarily because of visa restrictions) of connecting in China has limited growth in that sphere. With a large order-book of widebody aircraft on tap, China Southern has actually turned increasingly to cities such as Wuhan and Changsha (the capital of Hunan province), who will offer financial incentives to gain new long haul routes. Thus more seemingly incongruous long haul growth from China Southern is likely on tap in the coming months.