Manchester Wins Cathay Hong Kong Link as U.K. Hubs Add Asia Ties

Manchester Airport will add Hong Kong flights operated by Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. to its network and is targeting services to Beijing as U.K. terminals vie for connections to fast-expanding Asian markets.

Cathay will operate four weekly flights with Boeing Co. 777-300ER jets starting Dec. 8. Manchester’s first direct passenger service to Hong Kong may herald connections between the north English city and mainland China within 12 months, Chief Executive Officer Charlie Cornish said in an interview.

“Our catchment area is very strong and there are significant numbers of people who fly to China,” Cornish said, adding that 200,000 locals a year travel to Hong Kong via other U.K. airports. The company has sent representatives to Beijing, Shanghai and Wuhan as it seeks to encourage mainland services.

Manchester Airport Group, which also owns London Stansted, has expanded the network of its largest terminal with seven new long-haul routes in the past 12 months. Operations span Ryanair Holdings Plc’s European trips to Airbus Group NV A380 services flown by Dubai-based Emirates, the No. 1 international airline.

The Cathay deal comes less than a month after Birmingham Airport in central England announced that China Southern Airlines Co. would offer charter flights to Beijing this summer.

China’s biggest carrier by passenger numbers will operate three return services to the second-largest U.K. city between July 22 and Aug. 5 using a 248-seat Airbus A330 plane.

Gatwick Airport, London’s second busiest terminal, lost year-round Air China Ltd. services last year, though the carrier will operate four flights a week this summer.

Gatwick was listed alongside London Heathrow -- which boasts services to Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu in China, as well as Hong Kong -- as suitable for expansion by the Davies Commission on runway capacity in southeast England, which will submit recommendations after the 2015 general election.

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