UK looks to increase number of UK – China flights through renewed bilateral agreement

UK Transport minister Patrick McLoughlin has agreed to start negotiations with China in early 2014  to increase the number of flights allowed between the two countries. This would need an updated bilateral agreement with China.  At present each country has a “bilateral agreement” with each other country – the aim of which was initially to prevent airlines of rich countries dominating those of poor countries, in providing air links. Currently the bilateral agreement between the UK and China, which was signed in 2004, limits each country’s airlines to a total of 31 return flights per week between 6 destinations in both the UK and China. Patrick McLoughlin hopes that increasing this number of flights would be good “for trade, tourism and forging new partnerships, strengthening the links between our two countries.” The DfT said more flights could increase the amount that visiting Chinese nationals spend in the UK, which was around £300 million in 2012.  The DfT also hopes this could “benefit the increasing number of UK companies who regularly travel to China.”


UK looks to increase China flights

by Rob Gill
28 Oct 2013  (Buying Business Travel)

The UK is to begin talks with Chinese authorities to increase the number of flights allowed between the two countries.

Transport minister Patrick McLoughlin has agreed to start negotiations in early 2014 on an “improved” bilateral agreement with China during a trip to the Far East.

Currently the bilateral agreement between the UK and China, which was signed in 2004, limits each country’s airlines to a total of 31 return flights per week between six destinations in both the UK and China.

McLoughlin said: “The world of today is very different to that of a decade ago and we need a new agreement that reflects that.

“Improved air links between the UK and China would be good for trade, tourism and forging new partnerships, strengthening the links between our two countries.”

The Department for Transport added that a new bilateral agreement would “look to increase both the number of flights and the destinations, benefiting tourism and business in both countries”.

“In 2012, visiting Chinese nationals contributed around £300 million to the British economy,” said the DFT. “Improved air links could help boost this figure further. It could also benefit the increasing number of UK companies who regularly travel to China.”

China is seen as one of the biggest markets for potential trade growth alongside its fellow BRIC countries: Brazil, India and Russia.

Paul Wait, chief executive of the GTMC, said its ‘10 Routes to Growth’ report published last year highlighted Chinese cities such as Shenzhen, Chengdu and Nanjing (pictured) as emerging destinations which needed direct flights from the UK. Since the report’s publication, British Airways has begun flying from Heathrow to Chengdu.

“British business travellers are already travelling to these growth economies but at present they are doing so via other hubs and connecting routes,” added Wait.

“We are delighted to hear that there is parliamentary action on increasing the number of direct flights between China and the UK as these routes are vital for long-term economic growth.”




.    “China—restricted to six points in the UK and six points in China since 2004 with a current limit of 31 passenger services per week by the airlines of each side allowed;”There is a separate agreement covering Hong Kong.




BAA challenged on claim that it is lack of runway capacity at Heathrow that is limiting flights to China


HACAN has challenged BAA’s claim that it is lack of capacity at Heathrow that is limiting the number of flights between the UK and mainland China.  In reality there is a bilateral agreement between the two countries which restricts passenger flights between the two countries to 62 a week – 31 each.  HACAN has also produced evidence to show that the greater difficulty of getting a visa for the UK than for the EU is a major deterrent to Chinese people coming to Britain. BAA is claiming, disingenuously or dishonestly, that Frankfurt and Paris are leaving Heathrow behind as they forge ahead with extra flights to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou – while conveniently omitting to mention that Heathrow has many more flights to Hong Kong, which is also an important part of China and a key hub airport. BAA is working hard to make out that huge numbers of transfer passengers are important for London’s economy. In reality  Heathrow has the largest number of terminating passengers of any airport in the world. Therefore it does not need the extra passengers an expanded hub would bring to make it commercially viable to operate lots of flights to key business destinations.Details at




Other bilateral agreements:

Taiwan/UK Signs revised bilateral deal


Taiwan and United Kingdom has finalized a revised bilateral deal on 06OCT10.

The revised deal is to be in effect from 27MAR11, covering:

London Service Increase from 10 to 14 weekly
Manchester NEW Destination in the UK, up to 7 weekly

London Service Remains up to 3 weekly
Manchester Increase from 3 to 10 weekly

In the deal, Taiwanese carrier is allowed to operate 5th freedom traffic rights beyond Manchester for both passenger and cargo service.




Long article from 2003 about bilateral agreements:

The insane world of bilateral international aviation regulation

a Samizdata blog

It was recently announced that after talks between the British and Hong Kong governments, Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic Airways had won its long desired rights to fly from London to Sydney, Australia. In return for this, Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways were given the right to fly from London Heathrow to New York and other cities in the United States. Various observations were made about how an additional competitor on each route would increase competition and give passengers lower fares and more options.

While this is true as far as it goes, this is a pretty bizarre paragraph if you think about it. Why does the British government have to negotiate with the Hong Kong government before a private company can fly to Australia? In what parallel universe is the quid pro quo you must offer to get your airline permission to fly to Australia the permission for another airline from a third country to fly to New York?

And if additional competitors are good on routes, why were these airlines not allowed to fly on them already? And why did Singapore Airlines, Delta Airlines, and Continental amongst others object strenuously to the deal?

To answer these questions, we have to look at just how international aviation is regulated. This is bizarrely anachronistic. This most global of industries is regulated by a web of bilateral treaties between nations that dramatically limits competition. And to find this out, we have to look back into the dim depths of the past, to 1944. In the late days of the Second World War, it was widely recognised that international air travel was going to be a much bigger deal after the war than it had been before, and the instincts that created the new framework were, to put it mildly, protectionist.

The basic principal of the Chicago convention was that treaties allowing airlines to fly between countries would be bilateral in nature, negotiated between governments, and that airlines would generally only to allowed to fly either from or to their home country.

That is, flights between countries A and B would only be provided by airlines from countries A and B. In most instances each of these countries would have a single state owned airline licensed to operate on international routes. These two airlines could operate the route in peace, without there being any pesky competition. (Under the auspices of the IATA, they were generally required to charge the same fares as each other, too). Even countries that had private airlines (for instance the United States) generally gave favoured regulatory treatment to certain designated “international” carriers (in the case of the US, mostly Pan Am and TWA). So airline seats were expensive and regulated.

However, things were a little different for extremely long haul routes. You see, aircraft could (and can) only fly so far. Every now and then they have to stop to refuel. And if they are stopping to refuel anyway, why can’t they pick up and put down passengers at the airports where they stop? If an airline based in country A is flying to country C but has to stop on the way in country B, then there are almost always treaties between A and B and also between A and C that apply. If such an airline flies from A to C via B, then it is almost always allowed to put down passengers who got on at A at country B, and on the return leg it can carry passengers from B to A. And it can carry passengers all the way from A to C and on the way back it can carry passengers from C to A. What it cannot do is pick up passengers in B and carry then to C to replace the passengers from A who got off at B. Therefore, in such circumstances an airline tends to have full planes on the leg from A to B, but half empty planes on the leg from B to C. It is not allowed to sell tickets to fill these empty seats.

Such an airline is at a serious commercial disadvantage to airlines that are actually based in country B. Airlines based in B will likely have treaties with A and C. They are allowed to fly passengers in both directions between A and B, and they are also allowed to fly passengers in both directions between B and C. Because flying passengers from A to C is just a combination of these two journeys, both of which are permitted, it can also carry passengers from A to C. Therefore, an airline based in country B can fill its planes with all three types of passenger, and is at a commercial advantage compared to the first airline.

Unsurprisingly, airlines in country A have never been very keen on this kind of arrangement. Therefore, they have always looked for stopover countries willing to grant them so called “fifth freedom” rights. (Also sometimes called “beyond” rights. Freedoms one to four, and the unofficial freedoms six to eight are listed here, although fifth freedom is by far the one the most discussed). Fifth freedom rights are the right to pick up passengers in one foreign destination and carry them on to another foreign destination. Given that it is surely in the interests of a country to have as many connecting flights to the rest of the world as possible, one would hope that lots of countries would offer such rights. On the other hand, those who have studied how governments actually work would be less likely to conclude this. Unsurprisingly, local airlines hate having foreign airlines that actually compete with them, and nationalised (and private but protected) airlines tend to have the ear of the government to a greater extent than do genuinely competitive market based airlines. So there is usually more reluctance to grant fifth freedom rights than there should be.

Just to repeat the key definition: A fifth freedom right allows an airline to carry passengers between two countries, neither of which are the home country of the airline.

…………. and it continues, at length ……..