British Airways will double the number of Mandarin-speaking cabin crew on its China routes, its chief customer officer said on Thursday, as the airline seeks to expand in the world's second-largest aviation market.

The IAG-owned airline expects to have 50 more Mandarin-speaking cabin crew aboard its flights to Beijing and Shanghai by July, Calum Laming told Reuters, which will take the total number to 100 and make China its second-largest overseas crew base after India.

"Coming back to the market is a major priority for the airline. We would not be out here doubling the crew base size otherwise," Laming said. "Being able to double the number of cabin crew on board has a lot of benefits in terms of language, in terms of cultural awareness."

The British flag carrier resumed direct passenger flights to Shanghai in April and to Beijing in June last year, after China reopened borders shut by almost three years of COVID-19 curbs.

It faces stiff competition, however, from Chinese state-owned carriers on fares, and has to fly a longer route bypassing Russian airspace due to a ban related to the war on Ukraine.

British Airways was the second-largest operator of flights to and from China in December 2019, flying 133 times a month before the pandemic, according to aviation data provider Cirium.

But the airline is currently offering just 89 flights a month, December 2023 data shows, putting it in fourth position behind China's three largest carriers: Air China, China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines .

The British carrier's plan to increase the number of Mandarin-speaking cabin crew on its China routes comes after passengers accused three crew-members of Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific of being biased against non-English speakers. The three were later fired.

On Monday, Cathay announced it had taken on 100 new Mandarin-speaking cabin crew to improve its own competitiveness against Chinese airlines on Greater China routes. (Reporting by Joe Cash and Sophie Yu; Additional reporting by Lisa Barrington in Seoul; editing by Miral Fahmy)