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British Airways launches direct service to Chengdu

Updated: 2013-09-23 21:54
By Huang Zhiling and Lai Li (

British Airways launches direct service to Chengdu
Some 50 panda mascots descends a shopping center in Chengdu, Sichuan province, on Monday, to perform a unique flash mob style dance to generate local interest in the new direct flight between London and Chengdu. [Huang Zhiling/]

Nine months after British Airways announced it would launch a non-stop route between London and Chengdu in Sichuan province, one of the airline's long-range Boeing 777-200 planes officially landed at Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport on Monday.

Britain has long been one of the most popular tourist destinations for Chinese tourists from the Chengdu region.

"Chengdu is the only city in Southwest China with direct flights to London. The direct flight to London with the thrice-weekly service is expected to bring some 10,000 tourists from Southwest China to London within one year," said Wang Fan, general manager of the Chengdu branch of Caissa, one of the largest overseas Chinese tourism companies in Europe.

"The new route will save six to eight hours for passengers traveling between the two cities," said Willie Walsh, chief executive officer of the International Airlines Group, British Airways' parent company. Previously, British visitors heading for Chengdu had to fly to Beijing or Shanghai and change for Chengdu. The flight lasted about 18 hours while the direct flight knocks about eight hours off the flying time.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday afternoon, Walsh said: "Trade between the United Kingdom and China continues to grow and will be worth $100 billion by 2015. I am sure the launch of this new route, in addition to British Airways' existing flights from Beijing and Shanghai, will be a key factor in developing business links between our two countries."

Li Wei, chairman of Sichuan Province Airport Group, said: "This new route will enable the Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport to take another step toward becoming an international aviation hub in China."

Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport, which handled 31.6 million passengers last year, is the fourth-largest airport in China in terms of passenger volume.

With a population of 90 million, Sichuan has the largest economy in western China and has major appeal to airlines eyeing the western Chinese market.

Since 2011 when All Nippon Airways, one of Asia's largest airlines, opened a direct flight to Chengdu from Tokyo, there have been direct flights linking Chengdu with Abu Dhabi, Melbourne, Frankfurt and Doha.

Chengdu has 11 international direct routes, ranking first in central and western China.

According to Chen Zhongwei, director of the city's logistics office, United Airlines is expected to launch a non-stop service between Chengdu and San Francisco next year. It will be the first direct flight to the United States from western China.

"Direct flights linking Istanbul and Moscow with Chengdu will open next year, too. By 2015, Chengdu plans to build itself into an international aviation hub with 30 international direct routes carrying 50 million passengers annually," he said.

As they witness an increasing number of passengers, many overseas airlines have increased their flights.

The occupancy rate for All Nippon Airways' direct flights between Tokyo and Chengdu is 62.9 percent. In the peak travel season in summer, it passes 90 percent, and there is one flight from Chengdu to Tokyo each day instead of the previous four flights a week.

A wholly owned subsidiary of Singapore Airlines, Singapore Silk Air MI entered the Chengdu market in 2002, it has increased the number of its flights to Chengdu to 10 per week from previously one flight per day.

Walsh said: "We are starting with three flights a week. We would like to increase to five flights a week next year."

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