According to Chancellor George Osborne, Manchester Airport is a step closer to agreeing its first direct flight to mainland China, although the airport has yet to confirm any deal is in place.
The Chancellor, speaking at the UK-China Bilateral Investment Conference on Friday, said Hainan Airlines had been authorised by the Department for Transport to run a direct flight between Manchester and Beijing.
Announcing a series of measures to promote tourism and ‘enhance cultural co-operation’, Mr Osborne said: “We are increasing opportunities for airlines to operate more services and to introduce new routes between the UK and China.”
“Today I am delighted to welcome the announcement that China Hainan Airlines has received authorisation for a direct new flight between Beijing and Manchester.”
He also added that the Government was streamlining the visa process to make it easier for Chinese visitors, with measures such as letting approved tour groups forgo the need for a transit visa.
A Manchester Airport spokesperson said: “We continue to discuss and progress the commercial case for airlines to connect Manchester to key strategic markets, including Beijing.”
The move follows talks initiated by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, which led to a deal between the UK and China that will allow more passenger flights between the two countries.
The previous agreement allowed a maximum of 31 return services per week in each direction, serving up to six destinations in each country.
The new deal is expected to increase the weekly maximum to 40 direct flights in each direction – and allows UK airines to operate in three more Chinese cities than they currently do.
In April, Manchester became the only airport outside of London to have a non-stop service to China, when bosses announced a deal with long haul carrier Cathay Pacific to begin flights from Manchester to Hong Kong. The move should create more than 200 jobs and the the four-weekly route will start in December.
At the time, Manchester Airports Group (MAG) chief executive Charlie Cornish told the Manchester Evening News that he was closing in on a second deal for a separate direct service to Chinese capital Beijing, with talks with at least one carrier in ‘advanced stages’.
MAG has also secured investment from the Beijing Construction and Engineering Group for its £800m Airport City scheme.