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China Southern Airlines to restore direct flights to Mexico | Travel

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China’s biggest airline is poised to establish its first nonstop service to Mexico, signaling the country’s growing importance as a gateway to the Americas for the world’s second-largest economy.

China Southern Airlines to restore direct flights to Mexico: Gateway to the Americas expands (File Photo by GREG BAKER / AFP)
China Southern Airlines to restore direct flights to Mexico: Gateway to the Americas expands (File Photo by GREG BAKER / AFP)

Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines Co. plans to start direct flights to Mexico City on April 17, a spokesperson for the state-owned airline said. The twice-weekly flights will depart from Shenzhen in southern China, a person familiar with the matter said, confirming earlier reports in local media.

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The more than 16-hour journey across the Pacific would be China’s longest flight — and at 14,147 kilometers (8,790 miles), one of the lengthiest regular routes on the planet. It’s going ahead despite challenges of distance and terrain that make the return impossible without a stopover — a sign of how big a magnet Mexico has become to Chinese businesses seeking to sidestep tensions between Beijing and Washington.

Chinese suppliers to Tesla Inc., are among companies that have set up factories in Mexico in recent years, with electric vehicle champion BYD Co. set to follow. The Asian country has meanwhile been shipping ever-greater amounts of goods to America’s southern neighbor, a trend that accelerated with the pandemic.

China’s direct investment in Mexico reached $587 million in 2022, the highest on record, according to Mexico’s Economic Secretary. The countries’ two-way trade has risen 38% over the past four years, based on Bank of Mexico statistics for the 12 months through November 2023, versus the corresponding 2019 period.

The number of Chinese visitors to Mexico has also sharply rebounded in 2023 to 161,300 entries, just shy of pre-pandemic levels, Mexican government data show.

High Altitude

Yet even as business booms between the countries, there have been no direct flights since the pandemic. That’s partly because Mexico City’s altitude, at 7,300 feet, means fully-loaded planes cannot draw as much power from engines to take-off for the longest distance flights.

That means a layover is required on the return flight to Asia, adding cost. China Southern’s new service will stop in Tijuana on that leg, according to the local media report.

Before Covid, three airlines offered eight round-trips a week total between China and Mexico — Aeromexico, Hainan Airlines Holding Co. and China Southern, which flew between Guangzhou and Mexico City with a stop in Vancouver. While Aeromexico hasn’t returned, Hainan Airlines is understood to be seeking to resume a route to Tijuana, the person said.

Representatives from Hainan Airlines didn’t respond to a request for comment. China’s Ministry of Transport also didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Trade Frictions

China’s ability to resume direct services with the US has also been hampered by fraught relations with the world’s top economy. Direct flights are currently limited to 100 per week, down from 340 before the pandemic. US carriers face the added hurdle of going around banned Russian airspace.

Since the pandemic, China’s carriers have made a priority of re-establishing ties to countries that are receptive trade partners. In November, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for expanded commerce with Mexico in areas such as finance, EVs and other emerging industries.

“We reiterated our commitment to continue maintaining good relations for the benefit of our people and our nations,” Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said in a post on X after meeting with his counterpart at a trade summit in San Francisco.

China Southern’s new service sidesteps Beijing and Shanghai in favor of Shenzhen, a thriving technology and manufacturing hub. It’s home to BYD which is banking on Mexico and the wider region to boost export sales. Mexico also offers Chinese carmakers a showroom for their EV brands as they test the appetite of foreign consumers for stylish, affordable and high-tech EVs.

Among those setting up shop in Mexico are Ningbo Tuopu Group Co. and Shanghai Bayon Precision Automobile Component Co. — suppliers to Tesla, which is building out in the state of Nuevo Leon.

The tighter bond with Mexico is a growing irritation to Washington, where officials have sought to keep cheaper Chinese EVs out of the US market to shield the homegrown industry. US duties of 27.5% targeting Chinese EVs may increase, while further scrutiny is being placed on the country’s internet-connected vehicles for data and cybersecurity risks.

The pushback on autos and semiconductors prompted Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi earlier this month to blast the US for reaching “bewildering levels of unfathomable absurdity” on trade and sanctions.

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