The first direct flight from China for almost four years has touched down in Cairns.
China Eastern Airlines flight MU571 from Shanghai arrived at Cairns Airport shortly after midday on Thursday, kicking off a series of seasonal flights during the Chinese New Year period.
Thousands of Chinese tourists are expected to welcome the Year of the Dragon in Tropical North Queensland this year.
Cairns Airport Chief Executive Officer Richard Barker said the service was a significant milestone for the region and local operators.
“China is a key inbound tourism market, and these are our first direct flights since the pandemic,” he said.
“We are thrilled to be welcoming China Eastern Airlines today. It is clear that our region remains a destination of desire, and we expect these direct seasonal services will help to accelerate the return of visitors from China.”
The last time Cairns welcomed seasonal flights from China was in 2019. The most recent scheduled service from China was Hainan Airlines, which operated to Shenzhen and exited in March 2020 due to the pandemic.
Tourism Tropical North Queensland Chief Executive Officer Mark Olsen welcomed the return of direct flights between China and Cairns with China Eastern Airlines’ seasonal service.
“Tropical North Queensland’s international recovery is closely linked to aviation access and these flights will allow us to show that Cairns is ready to welcome visitors from China,” he said.
“China was our largest international market before the pandemic accounting for one in five international visitor nights and injecting more than $200 million a year into our regional economy.”
Tourism Minister Michael Healy said: “These seasonal flights for Chinese New Year are vitally important for our tourism industry but will also see the continued return of our international markets.”
“We are very happy to welcome them back. Welcoming back our Chinese market is an important step in rebuilding our international aviation connections.”
China Eastern Airlines is operating the Airbus A330 aircraft to Cairns, which has 29 business and 203 economy seats.