3 Feb 2014

Hopes for permanent China link

7:51 pm on 3 February 2014

The first direct passenger flight from mainland China arrived to fanfare in Christchurch on Monday.

The China Southern Airlines' Boeing Dreamliner took 12 hours to fly non-stop from Guangzhou in what tourism operators hope will become a regular service.

The charter flight was timed to coincide with Chinese New Year and the 228 passengers were welcomed by a Maori cultural group.

Chinese consul general Madam Tan Xiutian was on board and said she hopes the flight will become a regular service between the two cities.

Tourism operators are hoping work going on behind the scenes to evaluate the flight will result in a permanent link.

Chinese vistors are New Zealand's second largest group of foreign arrivals and some of the biggest spenders.

Christchurch Airport said its passenger numbers are on the rise, and have been buoyed by Monday's flight. Chief executive Malcolm Johns said December passenger numbers were the highest since 2009.

Mr Johns said preliminary passenger numbers show Chinese nationals coming through the airport were the highest ever for a January.

He said recently added flights from Perth, Singapore and Japan have also helped boost passenger numbers.