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Scotland and Ireland to get direct China flights

By Angus McNeice | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2018-03-16


Sir John Elvidge (left), chairman of Edinburgh Airport, Chinese Consul-General in Edinburgh Pan Xinchun (center) and Scottish Economy Secretary Keith Brown announce the new China-Scotland route from Edinburgh Airport. [Edinburgh Airport/Provided to China Daily]

Beijing to be part of three-city link up

Chinese carrier Hainan Airlines is set to launch the first direct flights between Chinese mainland and both Ireland and Scotland with new routes connecting Beijing with Dublin and Edinburgh.

Commencing June 12, Hainan will fly from Beijing to both cities, four times a week. The news comes following an announcement on Wednesday that Cathay Pacific will begin flights between Hong Kong and Dublin from June 2.

Hainan will link the Scottish and Irish capitals through a three-city flight model. Hainan will fly from Beijing to Dublin and then on to Edinburgh on Thursdays and Sundays, and from Beijing to Edinburgh and then on to Dublin on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

The Edinburgh route will be Hainan's third direct link between the UK and China. The Chinese carrier started flying a non-stop route between Beijing and Manchester in Northern England in June last year, and will begin flights from Changsha in Hunan province to London Heathrow next week.

Edinburgh began campaigning for a direct link with China in 2015 with the creation of the Edinburgh-China Air-Link project, which was set up by Marketing Edinburgh, Edinburgh Airport, and The City of Edinburgh Council.

"This is a fantastic day for Edinburgh Airport and for Scotland as we connect Scotland and China for the first time," said Edinburgh Airport chief executive Gordon Dewar. "Edinburgh is second only to London as the most popular UK destination for Chinese tourists, and we have worked incredibly hard with partners across the city and country to get to this point."

International carriers operate around 60 flights a week between the UK and China. In December, the UK and China agreed to raise the limit on the number of direct weekly flights between the two nations from 100 to 150.

Direct links with China can positively impact a local economy. Since the Manchester-Beijing route began, exports from Northern England to China have almost tripled, to 200 million pounds ($270 million) a month, and the amount spent by Chinese tourists in Manchester has doubled to 138 million pounds a year, according to a report by the Manchester China Forum and Manchester Airport.

Scottish Economy Secretary Keith Brown said the flights will strengthen trade with China.

"China is a major importer of Scottish goods and services – food and drink in particular – and this flight will give Scottish businesses a direct link into this important market," he said.

The majority of Britain's salmon and whisky exports originate in Scotland. The UK exported 69.9 million pounds of salmon to China last year, up 28 percent. And China imported 61.8 million pounds worth of British whisky, up 47 percent on the previous year.

The route to Dublin was announced from the Irish embassy in Beijing on Thursday, attended by Irish Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney.

"This first ever direct route to mainland China and the first Irish destination in Hainan Airlines' international network is a major achievement, which will prove transformational to the bilateral relationship between China and Ireland," Coveney said.

Around 5,000 Chinese students study in Ireland, and around 120,000 people travelled between mainland China and Ireland last year.

The announcement of the new routes comes as the owner of Hainan Airlines, Chinese conglomerate HNA Group, looks to offload assets amid liquidity concerns.

HNA is seeking buyers for its stake in the NH Hotel Group, a Spain-based company that operates 400 hotels in more than 30 countries.

HNA has a 29.5 percent share in the hotel chain, valued at $770 million. Analysts say that the move was prompted by new financial policies outlined by Chinese authorities.