BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Royal Brunei Airlines (RB)’ will likely launch its Beijing service in the second half of 2019, said CEO Karam Chand, flying to the new Beijing-Daxing New Airport, which once complete will be the largest single terminal airport in the world.

The airline has had to postpone the launch twice, after it was unable to secure landing slots at Beijing Capital International Airport, despite indications it would happen by December this year.

“Unfortunately, all our efforts to get slots at Beijing Capital Airport haven’t been successful, so the best option for us is park at the new airport,” Chand told The Scoop in a recent interview.

“The new airport will opening October next year, but we’re trying to see if there is a possibility of us going into what is called a ‘testing phase’, which will start in July. So we may be one of the pioneer airlines to go in the testing phase.”

Daxing Airport, located 46km south of the city centre, spans an area of 47 square-kilometres, and will be able to handle 72 million passengers and 620,000 take-offs and landings a year. The airport would primarily host Sky Team member airlines, including China Eastern, China Southern, Delta and Air France.

An artist’s impression of the new Beijing-Daxing Airport, scheduled for completion in October 2019. Its futuristic shape – resembling a giant hexagon starfish – is meant to handle more aircraft and to keep passengers’ walks to a minimum. Image: Zaha Hadid Architects

“Beijing is absolutely crucial because it’s a capital-to-capital connection. Given the very significant relationship between China and Brunei we feel this is a great opportunity to get Beijing into our route network,” RB’s CEO said.

The flag carrier is intent on expanding its China footprint — its current network services three cities in mainland China — Shanghai, Nanning, Hangzhou, as well as Hong Kong — with plans to launch flights to Haikou and Changsa by the end of 2018.

Chand said RB will focus its growth in east and north Asia, where commercial passenger traffic is forecasted to increase by 1.8 billion, the same amount for the rest of the world combined.

“The opportunity for Brunei is in north Asia in a number key markets — Japan; China, we only have a very small foot print there.”

China is rapidly becoming Brunei’s top source of visitors, topping air arrivals in the first quarter of 2018. The number of Chinese visitors has doubled in the past three years, reaching 52,000 in 2017.

“Our new network with a very strong footprint in key tourism markets will help us in delivering the 500,000 visitors to our shores by 2021, and with it very significant economic benefit to Brunei and the tourism industry stakeholders,” he said.