The North of England is set for an economic boost as it was confirmed that direct air links with China will be restored for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
Hainan Airlines resumes its Beijing-Manchester service from August 22.
The service will initially operate weekly each Monday arriving at 10am and departing at 3pm. From October the service will operate on a Tuesday.
The outbound route will initially operate via Dalian, where passengers quarantine for seven days, in line with Chinese regulations.
The inbound service will be direct from Beijing
Hainan Airlines will use an A330 aircraft with both economy and business classes.
Pre-pandemic, there were around 100,000 people a year who travelled between Manchester and Beijing from the airport’s catchment area.
Economic impact studies showed the route led to a 38% increase in Chinese visitors to the North, with an average spend per visit increasing by 94%, and export values grew 41%.
The return of the route will also be encouraging for the more than 40 universities across the airport’s catchment area that welcome thousands of Chinese students each year.
“The airline started flights from the Northern hub in 2016, with the route going on to unlock hundreds of millions of pounds in trade, investment and tourism benefits,” said Manchester Airport.
“The UK and Chinese governments last week agreed Manchester-China was one of the air corridors that could resume after a two-and-a-half year hiatus, and Hainan has moved quickly to start operating the popular service again, in time for the busy student season.
“The news has been hailed as a major boost to the North and the UK’s levelling-up ambitions, with Manchester Airport becoming the only gateway outside of London with a direct service to mainland China.”
Zheng Xiyuan, Consul General of the People’s Republic of China to Manchester, said: “On 23 October 2015, President Xi Jinping announced at Manchester Airport that Hainan Airlines would launch a direct flight from Beijing to Manchester, which would build a new bridge of cooperation between the two cities and the two countries.
“The route was suspended due to Covid-19, but even so, Hainan Airlines continued to send tens of thousands of Chinese students to Manchester on charter flights during the pandemic.
“Used mainly by Chinese students, the route is their way to pursue knowledge and their way home, and the bridge of white clouds carrying the longing of countless parents for their children, and the profound friendship between Chinese people and British people.
“I am very pleased that this route has been successfully re-launched, and it is the best way to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of China-UK ambassadorial diplomatic relations.”
Manchester Airport MD Chris Woodroofe said: “Today’s announcement is clear evidence of the vital economic role that Manchester Airport plays, both in the North and the UK as a whole, as we emerge from the pandemic.
“Prior to 2020, the Hainan 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.
“It is extremely positive to see critical routes like this return to our departure boards and we look forward to working closely with Hainan Airlines to build on the previous success of this route.”
VisitEngland/VisitBritain CEO Patricia Yates said: “We want to deliver a world-class welcome for returning Chinese visitors and the resumption of services making it easier for them to get here is a crucial part of our competitive tourism offer and recovery post-covid.
“In 2019 China was the UK’s second most valuable inbound market, worth £1.7 billion and Hainan’s direct route to Manchester will not only act as a gateway to the greater North West but also make it easier for visitors to come and explore regional Britain spreading the economic benefits of tourism growth across the UK.”
CBI North West Regional Director Damian Waters said: “Access to key global markets is vital to the future prosperity of the North West. China is already a key market for many businesses in the region, while many others will be seeking to forge trade links over there in the coming months and years as they continue to recover post-pandemic.
“Because of this, having the direct flight service return from the region’s primary international gateway to Beijing is of strategic importance, and should deliver real economic benefits to all parts of the North West.”