Heathrow Airport has grown its route network into China after new services were added by Chinese carriers Hainan Airlines, Tianjin Airlines and Beijing Capital Airlines.
Starting this summer, Hainan Airlines and Tianjin Airlines will provide the UK’s first direct connections to the growing cities of Changsha and X’ian, both in three-weekly services.
Hainan will operate a Boeing 787-800 from 23 March, going to the larger 787-900 on 1 September while Tianjin will utilise an Airbus A330-200 in May.
And Beijing Capital Airlines will convert its existing charter operation to a scheduled route to Qingdao, by providing two-weekly services from 26 March using an A330-200.
These services will provide more than 217,000 new seats every year for passengers, travelling to and from China.
Heathrow is already the biggest gateway to China from the UK, offering more than 100 direct flights to Chinese cities every week. Today, 55 of these go to Hong Kong, 22 to Shanghai, 20 to Beijing, 10 to Guangzhou and two to Qingdao.
According to Frontier Economics, these routes already contribute more than £510 million annually to the UK economy and create nearly 15,000 jobs.
The airport said though while connections to Chinese cities are clearly valuable to the UK, rival EU hub airports with capacity to connect directly to 12 other Chinese destinations, including mega cities like Hangzhou, Chengdu, and Kunming, are facilitating more trade and investment to their respective countries.
Heathrow said its plans for expansion will allow it the capacity to offer up to 40 new long haul destinations, as well as double its cargo capacity – providing the UK with “much-needed trade infrastructure at a time when the country is looking to extend its trade relationships outside the EU”.
Heathrow chief executive officer, John Holland-Kaye said: “China is booming and the appetite for British goods is stronger than ever. We are delighted to welcome these new airlines and routes. However, it is clear that the UK’s access to these Chinese market continues to lag behind our European rivals.
“Our nation’s biggest port is full and new routes from the UK to huge markets like Changsha and Xi’an are sadly the exception not the rule. If the UK is going to be a global trading powerhouse after Brexit, we need to expand Heathrow now – opening up to 40 new trading links that will help all of the UK thrive.”