HOUSTON — Everything is bigger in Texas, and on July 11, Houston spread its wings to Beijing as Houston became Air China’s newest destination in the United States in more than 30 years. Plus, Houston became the first Texas city to operate a direct flight to China. In a well choreographed dance, Houston welcomed Air China in a traditional style with more than 200 VIPS to celebrate the opening of a new gateway for business and leisure travelers between the fourth largest city in the U.S. and mainland China.
A little more than 25 years after the establishment of Air China on July 1, 1988, Air China flight 995 from Beijing to Houston was quite a significant flight as it represented growth economically for China’s and Texas’ economies as well as growth for Air China. Houston became the newest Air China destination in the United States in more than 30 years as well as the fourth U.S. city that Air China serves. The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) began long haul service in 1962 to countries like the Soviet Union, Mongolia, North Korea, Burma, Bangladesh, North Vietnam, and Cambodia, and service to Australia, the Middle East, and the United States began by the mid-1980s using mostly western aircraft. The CAAC became the first airline to operate western aircraft in China. In 1987, the Chinese government decided to split the operating divisions of the CAAC into six separate airlines: Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, China Northern, China Southwest, and China Northwest. Each airline was assigned to a certain region of China to cover. However, Air China was created to take over CAAC’s long haul aircraft and routes.
On January 15, 2013, Air China and the Houston Airport System announced plans to launch the new route between Beijing and Houston. Due to a high demand from local businesses in Houston and Beijing as well as tourism, it made sense for Air China and the Houston Airport System to connect these two cities. Collaboration between Air China, the Chinese government, the Houston Airport System, and the City of Houston to launch the Beijing to Houston route began just over a year ago.
After a 13 hour flight from Beijing on July 11, Air China flight 995 touched down at Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport at 3:30PM CDT. About 40 members of the media lined the scorching ramp for an up close view of Houston Intercontinental’s 20th airline arriving at the gate. As the Boeing 777-300ER approached the gate, we were treated to the “Smiling China” livery which has 40 smiling faces of Chinese people to represent the critical role that the Chinese aviation industry has played in bringing China to the world. A traditional water cannon salute occurred to welcome Air China.
As the aircraft approached the gate, the pilots held a Chinese and U.S. flag out the window to celebrate the new route. Many VIPS lined the windows in Terminal D to catch a glimpse of history being made.
Once inside the terminal, the gate area was crowded with 200 VIPS and members of the media from both China and the United States who were all excited to welcome Air China to Houston. Traditional Chinese dishes were served, and as soon as a few VIPS arrived from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the presentation was underway. After a few quick opening remarks made both Shortly after a few opening remarks in both English and Mandarin, a traditional Lion Dance occurred.
It was evident by the big smile on the Director of the Houston Airport System’s face, Mario Diaz, that he was very happy to see Air China flight in Houston. During his speech at the gate event, he reiterated that it is “[the Houston Airport System’s] mission to connect the people, the businesses, the cultures, and the economies around the world to Houston, and that commitment would not be strong if [Houston] did not have a flight to China. We can honestly say that we have met this goal by connecting two of the most dynamic and vibrant cities in the world.” Diaz emphasized that more than 26 million people are connected with the four weekly flights between Beijing and Houston. The 26 million only include those who live in Houston and Beijing. Diaz also emphasized that the flight would not have been possible without the support of Houston’s Mayor, Annise Parker.
Mayor Parker was also thrilled to be present at the arrival ceremony as the dream of nonstop flight from Houston to Beijing became a reality. She emphasized that she has always supported the community’s desire to have a nonstop flight between Houston and China as many “Houstonians” travel between Houston and China. She said that “[she] would have been happy to go to Shanghai, but [she is] ecstatic to go to Beijing.” Her joke received quite a few laughs from the audience. She continued on by saying, “I am very pleased that the dream has been realized. It has been long years in construction.” Parker mentioned that she believes that the impacts of the new flight will be noticed for years to come as “Houston is the gateway to the heartland of the United States.”
Houston’s Consul General of China, Ms. Xu Erwen, spoke at the event, after arriving from Beijing on the inaugural flight. She was very excited to say that “for the first time in history, we have a nonstop flight between China and Houston.” She continued on by saying that “I was so excited and honored to be one of the passengers on the maiden voyage. The journey was so comfortable, safe, time saving, and I enjoyed every moment of it.”
Former Houston Rocket’s player, Yao Ming, is Houston’s Honorary Goodwill Ambassador for China. He arrived from Beijing on the inaugural flight, and he made a few remarks at the event. At seven feet and six inches, he easily dwarfed all who were present, but he was very entertaining to listen to. He joked that if he had the flight 10 years ago, maybe he would still be playing for the Rockets. He continued by saying that “When I stepped off the plane, I had the same feeling when I arrived for the first time 10 years ago.”
The last speaker was the Vice Chairwoman of Air China Limited. Madame Wang Yinxiang, also flew on the inaugural flight from Beijing to Houston, and she reiterated that the new route will help Air China grow in the United States. She also mentioned that operating the Boeing 777-300ER between the two cities will offer more amenities for passenger comfort compared to other aircraft in the fleet.
Just this year, air service out of Houston Intercontinental has grown with the addition of Turkish Airlines in April and other airlines adding new destinations. As Houston continues to grow, many are continuing to push for new service or aircraft upgrades on existing routes. Who will be the next airline to begin service to Houston? Well, I’m sure only a select few know. Congratulations on the new service Beijing, Houston, and Air China!