Chinese charter could turn into air link

ALAN WOOD
Last updated 05:00 28/11/2013

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Christchurch Airport is talking up the chance of a permanent China Southern service after the airline confirmed a special chartered 787 Dreamliner service to Christchurch Airport in February.

China Southern would operate the first commercially flown Dreamliner to Christchurch, as part of a one-off charter programme next February, for Chinese New Year, Christchurch Airport chief executive Jim Boult said.

The charter flight would be the first Dreamliner to fly to Christchurch commercially, the first Chinese airline to fly to New Zealand's second-largest city and the first China Southern charter flight to the South Island, he said.

The charter flight will carry 228 passengers in a three-class cabin configuration.

It could be the precursor to a regular China service. Christchurch Airport has been in talks with China Southern, judged as the world's sixth largest airline by passenger numbers.

The airport had been "engaged" with China Southern for maybe three years now looking to secure a permanent service, Boult said.

"And while this is by no means anything like a permanent service, this is a very good signal we are well and truly on their radar.

"Scheduled services are often preceded by charter services, so while this is a one-off, we do think it is probably likely to lead to more charters, then a permanent scheduled service."

China Southern had recently renewed comments previously made that they intended to launch new services to Christchurch and Adelaide in Christchurch, Boult said.

New Zealand has already received its first commercial 787 Dreamliner service, with China Southern touching down with the Boeing plane at Auckland International Airport last month to launch a regular service.

Christchurch Airport's runway has already seen a visit by a Dreamliner in 2012, though that was not a commercial flight rather a demonstration visit by a Boeing team.

"We are seeing tourism from China continuing to grow, with Chinese visitor arrivals into Christchurch up 42 per cent in October. The charter flight will prove the opportunity for scheduled flights and a direct service that will also appeal to exporters and importers," Boult said.

China Southern general manager New Zealand Mike Ma said the airline was confident seats on the charter flight would be keenly sought after with Christchurch a gateway to the spectacular South Island. The flight would leave Guangzhou on February 2 and arrive in Christchurch early on February 3, returning to China the same day, Ma said.

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