New Delhi, October 13 :
Air China, the countryâ€™s second-biggest carrier and its main international airline, is starting a direct service between Beijing and New Delhi from October 30.
The service will be available three times a week between the capitals of the two countries. The state-run carrier is the second airline after Ethiopian Airlines to offer a direct service between New Delhi and Beijing.
â€œThere is a growing interest among both the Chinese people and Indians to visit each
othersâ€™ countries - especially to the capitals. We want to tap that growing market,â€ said Zhao Quanzhen, country manager for Air China in India.
â€œPassenger traffic between India and China grew by 20 percent to 600,000 in 2005 and we feel that there will be further interest - both for tourists and business people - as economic linkages between our countries develop,â€ added Zhao.
He said a pact has been entered into with Ambassador Sky Chef in-flight caterers to serve special Indian meals in the new service - which will begin with a Boeing 767-200 aircraft.
â€œNext year, we intend to make this a daily service and shift the operations to either Airbus A330 or A340 aircraft or a Boeing 777.
We will initially have 18 business class and 192 economy class seats,â€ he added. At present another Chinese airline - China Eastern - operates between the two countries, connecting New Delhi and Shanghai. â€œBut there is enough market for both the airlines to have a decent load factor,â€ Zhao said.
According to him, out of the 600,000 passengers who travelled between India and China last
year only 200,000 were Chinese â€” due to difficulty in securing Indian visas, stiff hotel tariffs in India and restrictions on Chinese investments.
â€œIn fact, visa is the single most important issue. In the first week of October, for example, which is a week of holidays in China, we had enough inquiries to operate 8-10 charters to India. But we could not get visas,â€ Zhao said.
â€œVisa is a problem not only for tourists but also diplomats and officials. Even the governor of one of our provinces who visited India with a business team had some problems, he told me,â€ the airline official said.