French aviation sector eyes Chinese expansion
Ross Cullen in Paris
Air France is rebuilding its Chinese network to pre-pandemic levels. /Julien de Rosa /AFP
Air France is rebuilding its Chinese network to pre-pandemic levels. /Julien de Rosa /AFP

Air France is rebuilding its Chinese network to pre-pandemic levels. /Julien de Rosa /AFP

Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang is visiting Paris on Wednesday for meetings with his French counterpart Catherine Colonna, as the two countries continue to strengthen commercial ties.

‌The discussions are also likely to take in the conflict in Ukraine, climate change, and wider bilateral relations, with a possible focus on building links between the pair's aviation industries.

France and China enjoy an increasing number of business partnerships, with several lucrative commercial contracts signed during French president Emmanuel Macron's trip to China last month. 

Airbus chief executive Guillaume Faury last month announced plans to open a second final assembly line in China that will double its production capacity in the country.


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‌Airbus and GDAT, one China's top helicopter firms, also agreed a deal during Macron's visit, with the head of Airbus helicopters in China hailing the size and attractiveness of the country's market for aircraft makers.

‌"It's a very large and dynamic market in the aviation segment," said Colin James, the head of Airbus Helicopters in China. "Airbus and Airbus Helicopters have been present for the last 50 years and just like in many other industries, it's a very strategic market with a good volume today and a huge growth potential."

‌Airbus's main operations are focused on its long and short-haul planes – but its helicopter business is also growing, by various means.

‌"We're not just here to sell helicopters, we're also here to enter into cooperations," said James. "What the Chinese helicopter market needs is support in developing infrastructure, to allow helicopters to operate efficiently and serve society, as they do all around the world."


Flag-carrier also looking eastwards

It's not just Airbus eyeing Chinese expansion. Air France is rebuilding its Chinese network back to pre-pandemic levels. By July 1, the airline expects flights to Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai to be operating daily.

‌On May 5, the French flag-carrier reported better-than-expected revenue in the first three months of 2023, aided in part by strong ticket sales ahead of the summer holiday season.‌

Globally, air passenger traffic continued in March to recover strongly from the COVID pandemic, according to the International Air Transport Association latest report. Airlines operated 1.7m more international seats in April than in March, with a near-tripling of demand for Asia-Pacific carriers.


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