BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – With two new aircraft delivered in the past month — and six more expected by the end of 2018 — Royal Brunei Airlines (RB) is ramping up its expansion into the competitive China market with the addition of two new routes to the mainland.

On Monday, the flag carrier announced a twice-weekly service to Haikou, capital of Hainan province, scheduled to kick off in October 2018, subject to landing slots and government approval.

Haikou is the second Chinese destination announced in a matter of months, with a twice-weekly service from Bandar Seri Begawan to Nanning beginning last April, a route previously operated by charter flights only.

“China is the world’s largest tourism market and has one of the largest foreign direct investments in Brunei. This provides RB with opportunities for further expansion and to enable more travel, trade and investment between the two countries,” said the airline’s CEO Karam Chand.

The CEO added there is good potential for more flights if the market grows, with seats on the Nanning route operating at an average load factor of 80 percent.

“This is great news for all Bruneian and Nanning tourism stakeholders. We are pleased with the growth from the new source market and we will continue to monitor this and other regional cities in China with an objective of adding more capacity.”

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RB CEO Karam Chand (5R) and RB brand ambassador Wu Chun (4L) at a promotional event in Nanning, China, on June 25, 2018 to promote the airline’s new route. Photo: Courtesy of Royal Brunei Airlines

China is currently the second-largest market for tourist arrivals into Brunei, with over 52,000 visitors in 2017. South Korea has also been identified as the fastest growing market, with arrivals increasing 145 percent within the last year.

Brunei’s national airline is intent on expanding its China footprint — its current network services three cities in mainland China — Shanghai, Nanning, Hangzhou, as well as Hong Kong. Plans to add Beijing to the network hit a roadblock due to limited landing slots, but the airline is eyeing a December 2018 launch.

By early 2019, RB will have a total of 14 aircraft — including seven brand new A320neos and five Boeing 787 Dreamliners — to fly routes to six Chinese destinations, illustrating the importance of the Far East market.

In a previous interview, Chand said the airline wants to focus its growth in east and north Asia:

“The opportunity for Brunei is in north Asia in a number key markets — Japan; China, we only have a very small foot print there,” he said, adding that RB is eyeing China’s secondary cities with a population of at least 5 million.