From left to right: The Mayor of Solihull Kate Wild, Lord Popat of Harrow, the Government’s aviation spokesperson in the House of Lords, The Lord-Lieutenant for the West Midlands Paul Sabapathy CBE, Vice-President of Caissa Mr Ren Jun, Birmingham Airport CEO Paul Kehoe and the Lord Mayor of Birmingham Councillor Shafique Shah.
Birmingham Airport has welcomed the UK's first direct flight from China into a non-London airport and inaugurated the use of its recently extended runway as the service departed for its five thousand mile journey back to Beijing.
Tourism Minister Helen Grant MP visited the Airport to celebrate the historic flight and to congratulate Birmingham Airport on becoming the country's first gateway to offer Chinese charter packages to the UK. The flight was welcomed by Lord Popat of Harrow, Government Aviation spokesperson in the House of Lords, alongside dignitaries from the city.
The China Southern A330-200 aircraft, operated by one of China's leading tour operators, Caissa Travel Management Co Ltd, arrived into Birmingham Airport fully laden with 248 tourists venturing into the UK on organised package tours. The charter flights are the first in the UK to operate from China and the sell-out tours demonstrate the enormous demand for more flights between the two countries.
"This is a historic day for Birmingham, and indeed the Midlands region. Never before has a commercial airliner touched down on a runway outside of the Capital from China and we are enormously proud to be the first to make this happen," said Paul Kehoe, the Airport's Chief Executive.
"We have invested more than £200m in recent years to create an airport that can accommodate more traffic, particularly to and from long-haul markets, and today we saw the first use of our runway extension for what it was intended: to provide direct global connectivity from the Midlands," Paul added.
These flights are a result of three years’ collaborative working with Birmingham City Council, Marketing Birmingham, VisitBritain and the Government. The partnership forms part of the wider VisitBritain ‘GREAT China Welcome’ campaign, which was announced during the Prime Minister’s visit to China in November 2013 and aims to make the UK the most welcoming destination in Europe for Chinese visitors.
Helen Grant, Minister for Tourism, visited the airport today to congratulate it on becoming the country's first gateway to offer Chinese charter packages to the UK.
The Tourism Minister, said, “Our tourism industry helps us sell the country to the world and is contributing to our long-term economic plan. The new route opened today with a vital trade and tourism partner in China; this is great news for tourism businesses in the Midlands, making it easier and more attractive for Chinese visitors to explore all the fantastic attractions in the Midlands such as the Royal Shakespeare Company, Warwick Castle and the vibrant city of Birmingham itself.”
Lord Popat of Harrow, the Government’s aviation spokesperson in the House of Lords, was at the Airport to welcome the arrival of this historic flight and to greet the passengers, including Mr Ren Jun, Vice President of Caissa Travel Management.
Lord Popat said: “I welcome this inaugural flight from Beijing to Birmingham Airport. As the first direct flight from Beijing to a UK regional airport, this is a very significant moment. This is great news for Birmingham, the West Midlands and the UK, and underscores the role our regional airports have in generating growth as part of the UK’s long term economic plan.”
Other VIPs welcoming the service at the airport included the Lord Lieutenant for the West Midlands, The Lord Mayor of Birmingham and The Mayor of Solihull, as well as representatives from the Airport and Midlands' Chinese community.
Chen Xiaobing, the President of CAISSA, said: “The successful launch of the first tour group not only presents CAISSA’s spirit of advancing and innovating with the times, which has attracted wide attention, but also suggests that this strategic and successful cooperation has opened up a new channel for travelling to England. In the future, CAISSA will continue to enhance the partnership and make greater efforts in promoting the further growth of Chinese tourist numbers.”
The runway extension, completed in May this year, provides airlines with unlimited take off range, allowing jets to fly direct to China and beyond. This puts Birmingham in an ideal place to become an alternative gateway to the UK for long-haul air travel.
China is currently one of the fastest growing visitor source markets for the UK tourism industry at a rate of 20% year-on-year over the past few years. The size of the market has tripled over the past decade, and it is forecast to continue to grow strongly for the remainder of the decade. In 2012 the Chinese visitor market was worth £62 million to the West Midlands economy, with Birmingham now the 4th most popular destination for Chinese visitors in England.
To mark this historic occasion, the Leader of Birmingham City Council, Sir Albert Bore, hosted a Chinese themed Civic Reception at Birmingham Council House for 150 guests.
Sir Albert Bore, said: “This is an important day for Birmingham’s future as we directly connect our city with one of the world’s biggest markets. Birmingham’s reputation as a destination city is growing quickly in China due to profile-raising work over the past few years by many city stakeholders.
“This year foreign investors have created record numbers of jobs in Birmingham and this is due partly to our connectivity with Europe and the rest of the world.
“We are increasingly being seen by the Chinese as the gateway to the rest of the UK with nearby historic sites, such as Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick, very close and London a short train ride away. They are realising that they don’t have to fly in to a London airport to visit the UK.”
The Beijing schedule will operate weekly through to the 5th August 2014, arriving into Birmingham at 0640 and departing for Beijing at 1200 each Tuesday.
The departure to Beijing today carried UK tourists travelling on an organised two week package tour, provided by Birmingham based Chinese travel agent, United Travel.
Chinese students from local universities were on hand to assist the airport and the arriving Chinese tourists through the terminal.
2014 is a year of milestones for Birmingham Airport as it also celebrated its 75th anniversary on the 8th July. During this period, it has handled more than 200m passengers through its doors.