June 14, 2017 2:04 pm JST

VariFlight's delay alerts helping app take off in China

Service's real-time data has become a must-have for flyers

DAISUKE HARASHIMA, Nikkei staff writer

VariFlight is now an essential app for frequent flyers.

DALIAN, China -- China's online travel service industry has been turned on its head by an upstart mobile app that provides real-time updates on flight delays.

Even though such delays are notoriously common in China, authorities do not publicize the information. The VariFlight service, which provides historical and real-time flight data and predictions of future service, has won the hearts of many travelers here.

A 28-year-old traveler who flies often for business said the service has raised the efficiency of his work. The unpredictability of flying in China often caused him to miss appointments with clients and left him at a loss for improving the situation. VariFlight informs users of delays before they reach the airport, making rescheduling less of a hassle, he said. The app's delay probability data is his favorite feature. This lets him choose flights unlikely to be delayed.

Chinese people have a newfound appetite for saving time, says VariFlight CEO Zheng Hongfeng.

In addition to arrival and departure times, the company provides detailed information on onboard Wi-Fi availability, in-flight meals and seat widths, services that set it apart from rivals.

Since launching in 2009, the app has had more than 100 million downloads. It has about 2.44 million regular users, according to a private-sector research company. Though still far behind industry leaders such as Qunar, with about 20 million regular users, and Ctrip, with about 19.5 million, VariFlight has grown into a major presence, ranking No. 7 among travel apps.

Operator Feeyo Network Technology does not disclose sales figures, but its net profit is said to have reached 10 million yuan ($1.47 million) in 2016, growing by more than 100% annually the past three years. The company's stable earnings come from selling flight data to businesses such as airlines, airports and travel agencies.

The data is compiled from the company's own equipment at airports that track aircraft location, as well as information collected from carriers and airports.

The service provides departure time estimates based on a massive da

ta trove, plus estimates of aircraft cleaning times. The company says its projections are nearly 100% accurate.

In China, the number of flights is growing by at least 10% a year but airports and carrier handling capacity have not kept up. So around 23% of flights are delayed each day on average. The fact that commercial flights need to avoid military exercises and wait for senior government officials to board adds complications as well. Asia's worst eight airlines in terms of on-time performance are all Chinese.

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