Alitalia’s recent deal with Etihad as its main partner, massive investments in Rome’s intercontinental airport Leonardo da Vinci and the Milan Expo that starts on May 1 are triggering new, exciting trends for the opening up of Rome-bound flights from all over the world with new intercontinental routes and destinations.
Italy’s flagship carrier, according to its ceo Cassano, has a well-established presence in North and South America but not in Asia. And Alitalia’s weakness hugely benefits the largest European carriers like Lufthansa, KLM, Air France and British Airways that control large swathes of the Italy-Africa or the Italy-Asia market, the most promising. Therefore Eastern Asia is a priority for the new Alitalia Sai.
Let’s start with the most populous country on earth: China. An under tapped market for Italy in general and Rome.
The latest news is that from April 27 Rome will have a fourth Chinese carrier connecting it with the country. It’s the private company Heinan Airlines and the flight will operate from Chongqing, the fourth Chinese city with a direct flight to Fiumicino. The others being Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai each operated by a different airline, respectively Air China, Cathay Pacific and China Eastern.
Chongqing, an important industrial center and a municipality of 30 million inhabitants, is a major transportation hub for Western and Central China. The flight is likely subsided by the local government and comes on top of a newly opened Italian general consulate there. It will connect an inland region that is very far from the three major intercontinental Chinese airports: Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai. Furthermore, there is only one Western city with a direct flight for Chongqing: Helsinki, not exactly a match for Rome’s appeal.
According to data provided by Aeroporti di Roma (AdR) Chinese passengers rose by 60% in the last five years to exceed the half million tally. 2014 posted a 10% increase on the year earlier. More than half of the Chinese passengers who land in Rome fly directly to the Leonardo da Vinci hub.
The same Rome Fiumicino airport has done a lot for its Chinese clients and is the only world’s airport to achieve the Welcome Chinese hospitality standard Certification, officially issued by the China Tourism Academy. It has Chinese signs, many hot water dispensers and a Mandarin-language version of its website and app.
The long-established Rome Hong-Kong flight run by the high-end Cathay Pacific features a new aircraft: the B777 which has a capacity 30% bigger than the A340 previously used on this route.
Alitalia has also announced its return to the Rome-China market with a direct Beijing service.
But the country that will go through the largest rise in flights connecting it to Rome is South Korea: they will be basically double. Not only Korean Air will markedly improve its presence but Alitalia and Asiana will inaugurate new direct services in June.
Korean Air has just stepped up its Seoul Incheon service from Rome to three non-stop return flights a week and from the end of the month it will use a bigger aircraft, the 363-seat 747-400.
Part of the Etihad-led overhaul, Alitalia will run a non-stop service to Seoul Incheon from June 5 three times a week.
And the second-largest Korean airline, Asiana Airlines, will also join the pack with three flights per week – Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday – from Seoul Incheon to Rome as the carrier expects an increase in demand of tours to Europe. So in this case Rome is also playing the hub role for Southern Europe, it’s not just a destination. Starting from June 30 with a 300-seater Boeing 777-200ER.
Via the increased Seoul flights it will be easier to reach Rome from Japan since the Incheon intercontinental hub serves 12 Japanese destinations. Furthermore, Alitalia is increasing its Tokyo operations with more direct flights.
The next Chinese city in the pipeline is the coastal city of Wenzhou which is served by China Eastern. This company has already increased its Shanghai connections to daily flights from four a week in 2014 and operated the Rome-Wenzhou service a few years ago.
But the other Chinese top player to enter the Rome market soon should be China Southern Airlines, the largest mainland carrier, sixth airline group in the world – and the first outside the United States or Europe – which transports over 100 million passengers a year (more than low-cost Ryanair and its direct Chinese rivals Air China and China Eastern). As the core domestic market of the Guangzhou-based airline gets tougher due to more competition, it needs more long-haul flights to maintain its impressive growth rate.
Chinese travelers are incredibly hungry for overseas trips. They plan to travel abroad more (double digit growth rates seem reasonable at least until 2017) and farther in coming years.