New Direct Flights from US to Asia Highlight Tech Sector Ties

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by Andrea Moneton
Alibaba’s headquarters in Hangzhou, as well as other growing tech companies, will now be connected to companies in Silicon Valley via United’s direct flight to San Francisco. Image: Thomas Lombard (TheCraft) via Wikimedia Commons.

Since the beginning of 2016, United Airlines and American Airlines have launched or announced plans to launch a combined total of six new flight routes connecting the West Coast to the Asia-Pacific. United has begun nonstop service from San Francisco to both Xi’an and Singapore, and will also operate flights to Auckland and Hangzhou from San Francisco beginning in July. American Airlines’ inaugural flight from Los Angeles to Auckland also took off late in June, and American has announced plans to operate a direct flight from LA to Hong Kong. In addition, Air China announced its plans to begin operating a new direct flight between Shanghai and San Jose in September 2016. 

Some expansions are also geared toward increasing existing connectivity between American and Asian cities. For example, American Airlines is also planning to expand the weekly frequency of its service from Dallas to Tokyo and Seoul. Most of the new routes, however, also connect cities like Xi’an and Hangzhou directly to the United States for the first time, and revive Singapore’s direct link to the US after Singapore Airlines’ direct flight to Newark was discontinued in 2013.

Although Xi’an and Hangzhou may be unfamiliar to most American tourists for direct flight destinations, both are central to China’s budding technology industry, and have been major hubs of entrepreneurship and innovation. Hangzhou is home to the headquarters of major companies like Alibaba, and private enterprise growth has created a booming services sector there. Xi’an is also home to the Xi’an Economic and Technological Development Zone and has attracted over $1 billion in foreign investment from major multinational companies to promote the development of its tech industry.

Considering San Jose and San Francisco are the closest international airports to Silicon Valley, the new flight routes will help connect tech companies in California to their counterparts in China. Thus, the new flights offer the potential for increased cooperation between firms in both countries. This could build on partnerships that already exist, including between Alibaba and American data and internet company Equinix. The new routes also complement recently added flight routes between Silicon Valley and other Asian technology hubs like New Delhi, from which Air India added a direct flight to and from San Francisco following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Silicon Valley.  

Andrea Moneton is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a student at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.