Manchester-China direct flight resumes
Direct flights between China and the northern English city of Manchester resumed on Monday after a two-and-a-half-year hiatus triggered by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Manchester Airport said Hainan Airlines would resurrect its Beijing-Manchester service, which will operate weekly each Monday.
According to the airport, the outbound service to Beijing will initially stop in the Chinese city of Dalian due to policies in China, but the inbound service will be direct from Beijing. From October, the service will operate on Tuesday.
Manchester Airport will be the only UK gateway outside London with a direct service to the Chinese mainland.
"It is extremely positive to see critical routes like this return to our departure boards," said Chris Woodroofe, managing director of Manchester Airport.
Around 100,000 people a year traveled between Manchester and Beijing pre-pandemic, Woodroofe said.
"Prior to 2020, the Hainan (Airlines) service provided vital connectivity to one of the world's most important economies and I am sure this news will be welcomed by the hundreds of thousands of people across the North who travel to and from China each year," he added.
The flight's return is being seen as a boost to the region and has been welcomed by various organizations in Northern England and beyond.
Sheona Southern, managing director of Marketing Manchester, said the direct route has a long-term benefit because it means Chinese visitors get the chance to see that Greater Manchester is a desirable place in which to live, work, study, or invest.
She said the route had "brilliant success" pre-COVID-19, with an 80 percent increase in passenger numbers between Beijing and Manchester seen during the first two years.
It also created a 260-million-pound ($305.6 million) boost to the local economy.
Paul Walters, head of international trade at the Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said: "China is an important trading partner for the region," he said. "This is an important first step. Our members welcome the ability to visit both customers and suppliers in China."
Because the major regional airport also serves North Wales, the return of the routes has been welcomed there as well, said Jim Jones, CEO of North Wales Tourism.
"We very much look forward to welcoming our Asian visitors to the region of North Wales, as they have been missed," said Jones.
The direct line started in 2016 and became an important corridor between China and Northern England for nearly four years before it was halted at the start of the pandemic due to lockdown measures in both countries.
Despite the end of regular flights, Hainan Airlines continued to send tens of thousands of Chinese students to Manchester on charter flights during the pandemic.
In 2020 and 2021, 43 chartered flights transported nearly 10 thousand Chinese students to universities across the United Kingdom, according to Manchester China Forum.
Rhys Whalley, executive director of the organization, said the resumption of regular scheduled flights was "welcome news" and shows there is improved connectivity with China.
"The resumption of scheduled services between the UK and China is a very welcome development and one that will serve to accelerate post-pandemic recovery and engagement with the world's leading growth economy," Whalley added.