Chinese carrier Sichuan Airlines is to launch a three times weekly link between its Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport and Melbourne Airport in Australia. The route announcement follows lees than six months after the two gateways announced a sister airport partnership during the Routes Asia conference, which was hosted by the Chinese city in April this year. One of the ambitions of the agreement, developed to share expertise in operations, planning and retailing and best practice in areas such as route development was to secure this new direct service.
“China has driven international growth at Melbourne Airport over the last few years and will continue to do so. China is now our most important long-haul market,” said Chris Woodruff, Chief Executive Officer, Melbourne Airport. “With a population of over five million people, numerous spectacular natural attractions and cultural history dating back more than 2,300 years, Chengdu stands as one of China’s great cities and is now a major development hub for south west China with its aviation and transport infrastructure.”
Details of the new route, were revealed during a trade mission to China by Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu. He said the deal was a significant step in positioning the state as Australia's gateway to China. “Direct air services between Melbourne and Chengdu will increase business, education and tourism ties between Victoria and China,” he said.
Chengdu is one of the largest cities in western China, with a population of 14.7 million, and has presented itself as a key driver of China's economic growth in recent decades. There is currently no direct link between the two airports although Air China, Cathay Pacific and Shanghai Airlines all fly directly from China to Melbourne.
“We are delighted that Sichuan Airlines has chosen Melbourne as its Australian hub, providing Victorians with more direct flights to this important and dynamic gateway to western China,” said Chris Woodruff. “Sichuan Province is a key growth region in China. Direct flights between Chengdu and Melbourne will lead to stronger tourism, education, business and cultural connections.”
There was a 27 per cent increase in the number of Chinese overnight visitors in the 2011/12 year, according to official Tourism Victoria figures. Latest traffic statistics from Melbourne Airport also show the strong growth from the country. In August 2012 passenger numbers grew seven per cent with the Hong Kong and Chinese markets showing some of the largest rises of 39.1 per cent and 17.5 per cent respectively.
Speaking to The HUB earlier this year, Tourism Australia managing director Andrew McEvoy said he believed the sister airport agreement between Melbourne International and Chengdu Shuangliu would further strengthen aviation ties between Australia and China and ultimately facilitate additional aviation capacity between the two countries.
“Australia has experienced faster international visitor arrivals and expenditure growth from China than from any other tourism market, with a record 558,000 visitors for the twelve months to January 2012,” said McEvoy. “The aviation market in China alone is enormous and growing at an exponential rate, as the Chinese government continues to invest heavily to develop its airlines and infrastructure, particularly its secondary airports. Better access and having more direct flights to Australia will clearly help convert more of this desire into actual visitation, and this starts with building strong aviation relationships such as this.”