Some China Southern executives opposed the joint operation of the A380s, too, wanting to stick to the original aim of operating them independently on one of China's strongest intercontinental routes. That is just what the government promised China Southern when it ordered the A380s in 2005, industry officials say. Air China had resisted pressure to take the type, judging it too big. China Southern has even resorted to using A380s domestically, on 3.5-hr. services from Beijing to Guangzhou and Hong Kong, hardly suitable for an aircraft designed to fly 15,400 km (9,600 mi.).
China Southern will not give up its push for access to Beijing, executives say, though they are well aware that, quite apart from official reluctance to let the central government's Big Three airlines invade each other's territories, slots are increasingly scarce at Beijing Capital International Airport. It is no surprise, then, that China Southern has agreed to set up shop at the giant new airport that will be built at Daxing in the capital's southern suburbs this decade—though it is not due to go into service until 2018.
Then there is Urumqi, the far-flung city in Xinjiang province that, conveniently for commercial aviation, is very close to the great-circle routes between Western Europe and much of central and southeastern China. With a population of 3.4 million, Urumqi (pronounced oo-ROOM-chee) is already a big base for China Southern. The carrier serves 45 Chinese cities from there, 34 of them beyond sparsely populated Xinjiang.
Urumqi's potential as a national gateway—a sort of Chinese Atlanta—is obvious. For example, the line from London to Urumqi and then the big central city Wuhan is only about 1% longer than the direct London-Wuhan route. While Beijing is better located for cities farther north and east, and has the advantage of its self-generated traffic, China Southern is keeping the possibility of an Urumqi international hub in mind, say company executives. Services between it and Western Europe could easily be flown by the A330-300, which Chinese airlines favor for medium-haul missions and is easier to fill than the much heavier and longer-legged Boeing 777-300ER. Some Eastern European cities might even be reached with A320NEOs or 737 MAXs, although Chinese carriers will have few of them this decade.