Chinese airline Hainan is close to deciding on whether to open a route from Dublin to Beijing in what would be Ireland’s first direct link to Asia’s biggest economy.
The Sunday Independent reported yesterday that negotiations have been taking place between the airline and Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) and the airline is close to finalising a schedule for the flights.
The flight will operate on alternate days to Dublin and Edinburgh in Scotland which has added complexity to the scheduling and slot negotiations.
Hainan Airlines, which is the forth largest in China, is part of the huge Chinese conglomerate HNA, a Fortune 500 company whose businesses range from aviation to hotels, and shipping to technology.
Last year HNA chief operating officer William Zhang said Hainan Airlines is “very likely” to launch the direct service and also said Ireland is one of the countries where HNA might consider developing its first regional headquarters, saying that Ireland has “strong advantages”.
No airline has launched a direct route from the Far East to Ireland yet and the Chinese market is seen as key for both tourism and business reasons.
Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons described a direct link with China as “vital” with more and more Chinese visitors coming to Ireland every year.
“We had originally put together a strategy to see 50,000 Chinese visitors by 2017 and the latest indications from 2016 data is that there were possibly as high as 70,000 Chinese visitors.
“We know that attractions such as the Guinness Storehouse are already up 40pc on Chinese visitors this year.”