China is very important to British Airways Plc's international expansion and the company wants more destinations in the country, Willie Walsh, CEO of BA's parent, International Airlines Group SA, told China Daily on Wednesday.
"The great thing about China is that the growth is incredible," Walsh said. "It's fantastic what's happening there. We see quite a number of cities attractive to us."
Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chongqing, Xi'an and Wuhan are all possible BA destinations, he said.
"We expect trade links between the UK and China to grow fast, particularly as direct connectivity becomes available," Walsh said.
The government of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, is holding a week-long promotion in London to attract visitors to the city, known as the home of giant pandas. BA launched a direct route between London and Chengdu in September, originally with three flights a week. This month, it increased to five.
Walsh said passenger numbers on the route met expectations. Marketing is still needed to make customers in both cities aware of the flight.
He said it normally takes up to three years for a long-haul flight to become profitable - or 80 per cent full - whereas new flights generally are half full. BA intends to increase frequency for new long-haul flights as soon as possible to suit the needs of business passengers.
The addition of BA's Chengdu-London flight was helped by IAG's acquisition of the airline British Midland Ltd in 2012 because Heathrow Airport, the UK's busiest, is reaching full capacity. Additional landing slots are hard to come by. That purchase opened the way to more slots, Walsh said.
Chengdu is the fourth Chinese city directly served by BA from London. It started flights to Hong Kong around 1930, to Beijing in 1981 and to Shanghai in 2005.
"I joined British Airways in 2005, and since then I've had a very clear focus on China," Walsh said. He travels to China three or four times a year, he said.
Walsh said the time between establishing the Shanghai and Chengdu routes was quite long. He said he's confident BA will take much less time to establish the next Chinese destination.
Walsh said his company also plans to use Boeing Co's 787 Dreamliners to service new Chinese routes.
BA faces competition from Chinese airlines. China Southern Airlines Co Ltd flies directly from Guangzhou to London, Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd between Hong Kong and London, and Air China Ltd from Beijing to London.