Manchester still the place for direct China flights

THE tour operator which only last month announced it would start flights to China from Birmingham Airport this summer has pulled out.

Beijing Capital Airlines owner Caissa Touristic has withdrawn “for unknown reasons”, Birmingham Airport announced on Friday afternoon.

The news means that Manchester remains the only airport outside of London with a direct scheduled service to mainland China, with its the four-weekly Manchester-Beijing route launching on June 10.

Paul Kehoe, chief executive of Birmingham Airport, said: “We have been advised by Caissa that these flights will no longer operate this summer.”

He added: “We are currently unaware as to the reasons why given the success of the China services over the last two summers from Birmingham.

“We are awaiting more information from the tour operator as to why it has made this decision but we are confident that we will be able to reinstate services from between Birmingham and China in the future.”

The planned programme was for two services – once a week to Beijing and once per week to Shanghai’s Hangzhou Airport.

It follows two years of charter services where Caissa Touristic carried thousands of Chinese tourists into Birmingham for package holidays in the UK.

In April, Birmingham Airport reacted angrily to moves by its Manchester counterpart to stage an event in Birmingham luring customers to its new direct Chinese service.

Manchester Airport said its new scheduled flights to Beijing would bring direct benefits to the 54,002 Birmingham residents who travel to China each year.

It said: “Currently people living in Birmingham have to travel via London or other overseas hubs to reach Beijing. The new route will also generate journey time savings worth £5m every year for UK business passengers. 37,413 passengers from Birmingham currently travel to Beijing each year.”

It added that Beijing service would “massively shorten” journey times to the Chinese capital. Taking 10 and a half hours, the A330-300 aircraft will have 32 business class seats and 260 in economy.

Birmingham Airport reacted angrily to the move to try and poach its business.

Kehoe said: “China is an enormous growth market for the UK with many regions increasing trade with Chinese companies. It is surprising therefore, that another region should need to come to our city to promote its services.”

Manchester Airport says that the two airports’ catchment areas overlap and it simply has routes Birmingham does not, so it promotes them across the whole catchment area.

Ken O’Toole, chief executive of Manchester Airport said: “We know from experience that passengers from the Midlands already use Manchester Airport for our unique long haul network and we know that the direct Beijing flight starting in June with Hainan Airlines, will see custom by passengers from the Midlands who do not want to fly from Heathrow.”