China Eastern Airways will continue to build its Australian footprint over the coming year to capitalise on the expanded joint venture with Qantas.
And while the SkyTeam member's home port of Shanghai will remain a key focus, much of that growth is expected to come from the raft of secondary cities outside 'the big three' of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
"In the past three to five years we have seen increasing demand from what we call 'second tier cities', even though their population can be as high as 10 million people," explains Kathy Zhang, China Eastern's General Manager Oceania.
"They have enough demand to fly international routes directly, not through Shanghai."
Four new routes on the way
Non-stop flights between Sydney and Hangzhou will begin on November 16, with the route also continuing onwards to Beijing, to complement the existing Sydney-Nanjing-Beijing service.
This will be followed by direct flights between Sydney and Kunming on November 26.
December will see the beginning of year-round Brisbane-Shanghai flights, which have been upgraded from a seasonal service.
The Brisbane-Shanghai flights will initially run four times a week, then toggle to a daily frequency across the peak January-February season before stepping back to a four days a week schedule.
"But sometime later next year it will go to daily and we will keep it daily," Zhang tells Australian Business Traveller over a cup of green tea in her Sydney office.
"In 2017 we will see another new route from Sydney to Xi’an via Wuhan, with both those cities being very important transit cities for people going to the central and western parts of China."
The journey of increased market share...
China Eastern has been flying to Australia for 20 years, beginning with a twice-weekly schedule between Sydney and Shanghai, but Zhang is aware that the airline faces challenges of both competition and culture in building its local market share.
"Even if you have brand new aircraft and the most modern facilities and expensive menus it still takes time for people to accept the new product, it takes time to build market awareness."
And with a solid roster of international airlines flying Australians through to Europe and the UK, Zhang sees that "most of our business will be between Australia and China."
However, travellers who do choose to continue onto Europe with China Eastern can take advantage of the 144 hour 'visa waiver' program for international transit at Shanghai, Hangzhou and Nanjing, which allows a stay of up to six days or nights without a Chinese visa.