Heathrow Airport has launched new direct routes to China in a move that could add up to £26m to the UK economy.
Heathrow-based Hainan Airlines and Tianjin Airlines will provide the UK’s first direct connections to the growing cities of Changsha and X’ian in three weekly services, while Beijing Capital Airlines will operate a scheduled route to Qingdao, with two weekly services, from the beginning of next week.
Heathrow says the new routes will translate into 217,000 new seats every year for passengers and an additional 6,700 tonnes of new cargo space for British exports.
Research group Frontier Economics estimate that the new routes will unlock £26m annually in trade and foreign direct investment as well as creating 830 jobs in the UK.
The airport says the new routes are just the beginning, and that its plans for a third runway would make it more ambitious.
"Heathrow’s plans for expansion will allow the airport the capacity to offer up to 40 new long haul destinations, as well as double its cargo capacity – providing the UK with much-needed trade infrastructure at a time when the country is looking to extend its trade relationships outside the EU," the airport said.
However, opposition groups have risen up against the runway, citing noise, pollution and economic concerns.
Heathrow is already the biggest gateway to China, flying direct to cities such as Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou Qingdao. According to Frontier Economics, these routes already contribute more than £510m annually to the UK economy and account for nearly 15,000 jobs.
Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said:
“China is booming and the appetite for British goods is stronger than ever. We are delighted to welcome these new airlines and routes. However, it is clear that the UK’s access to these Chinese market continues to lag behind our European rivals. Our nation’s biggest port is full and new routes from the UK to huge markets like Changsha and Xi’an are sadly the exception not the rule. If the UK is going to be a global trading powerhouse after Brexit, we need to expand Heathrow now – opening up to 40 new trading links that will help all of the UK thrive.”