9 Air: Toughing It Out Low Cost Style
9 Air / Jiu Yuan Airlines was the first all new low-cost airline to launch as part of the policy reforms that have opened the door to low-cost airlines in China. The carrier is a joint venture between Shanghai based private airline Juneyao and private investors. It is based at the South-eastern city of Guangzhou well away from Juneyao's own primary hub. The airline's name comes from marketing spin suggesting airfares from as little as 9 Yuan. It received its first two aircraft, both leased 737-800s, in August 2014 but getting off the ground has not been easy for the new startup, it wasn't until December 2 that charter operations could begin on the Guangzhou-Zhanjiang sector.
Proper scheduled services took even longer and didn't begin until January 15, 2015 with a multi-sector route connecting Guangzhou to Harbin via Wenzhou. The route is not exactly prime and involves a long stopover despite being well within non-stop return range of the 737. Almost immediately 9 Air suffered strong competition from China Southern, which has a major hub at Guangzhou. However 9 Air appears to be in it for the long-haul having been able to place a spectacular order direct with Boeing (historically highly unusual behaviour) for 50 737s (20 -800s and 30 MAXs) in May 2014.
9 Air configures its 737s in the maximum 189 seat configuration and bundles its air fares together, with the lowest level including no checked baggage - features typical of international low-cost airlines. Though 9 Air signals a change in the way the CAAC regulates the industry, its bright colours and very low advertised fares being unusual, it has been far from plain sailing for the new airline. Since its launch it has only been able to take a few extra 737s and has found it very difficult to acquire slots at Guangzhou Baiyun Airport. This is no doubt largely political. The new Guangzhou government appears to have withdrawn its support for 9 Air, no doubt in the face of much posturing by China Southern. Though Guangzhou has a new runway it is not being used properly - partly because this would open the door for 9 Air's services.
By July 2015 9 Air still only offered 14 flights per day (with 5 aircraft) and only four of these were from or to its main hub! It seems 9 Air is being marginalised on thing multi-connection routes. Only time will tell whether 9 Air can find a way through the bureaucratic hurdles it faces, but it is not alone and other LCCs signal that despite setbacks low-cost competition will change the Chinese aviation landscape in the coming years.
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I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: