Manchester Gets First Mainland China Flights With Hainan Air

  • U.K. route accord is part of package of deals tied to Xi visit
  • Announcement follows start of Hong Kong services in 2015

Manchester Airport will get its first direct links with mainland China when Hainan Airlines Co. introduces flights to northern England’s biggest population center from Beijing starting June 10.

The four-times-weekly service with China’s fourth-largest carrier follows the opening of a route from Hong Kong to the airport by Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. in December 2014.

The Hainan flights, which will use Airbus Group SE A330 jets, was announced in a statement from the U.K. government as part of a package of accords linked to a state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who toured Manchester Airport before flying back to Beijing.

Manchester Airport Group Chief Executive Officer Charlie Cornish said when the Cathay Pacific deal was announced that he’d sent representatives to Beijing, Shanghai and Wuhan to encourage mainland Chinese services. The Hainan service will go daily should demand prove sufficient, Xie Haoming, the carrier’s president, said in an interview at the airport.

Manchester, Britain’s third-biggest air hub, has direct flights to more than 30 long-haul destinations, including three daily services a day to Dubai operated by Emirates, two of which utilize Airbus A380 superjumbos.

Gatwick Airport, south of London and the U.K.’s second-busiest terminal, lost year-round Air China Ltd. flights in 2013, though retained some charter services. China Southern Airlines Co. has been operating charter flights to Birmingham, in central England, to gauge demand. London Heathrow, Europe’s largest airport, boasts services to Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu in China, as well as Hong Kong.

Cornish said in an interview that he aims to encourage Hainan to offer flights to Shanghai which, like Beijing, is visited by about 100,000 people a year from Manchester’s catchment area. The airport is also targeting services to Bangkok and Los Angeles or San Francisco, and aims to attract further flights by Persian Gulf carriers, he said.

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