The first flight from mainland China in four years has touched down in Cairns with the beginning of a seasonal China Eastern service.
Flight MU571 arrived in Cairns just after midday on Thursday on board the 232-seat A330-200 B-8231. Operating four times per week, it will see 10 total flights for the Lunar New Year until 18 February, bringing 2,320 total seats into Cairns and the wider Tropical North Queensland region.
The route is the first Chinese service into Cairns since Hainan Airlines ended a scheduled Shenzhen service in March 2020 due to COVID-19.
“China is a key inbound tourism market, and these are our first direct flights since the pandemic,” said Cairns Airport CEO Richard Barker.
“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.”
Tourism Tropical North Queensland (TTNQ) CEO Mark Olsen has welcomed the flights and their expected impact on tourism in the region.
“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.”
TTNQ will push to turn the seasonal route into a year-round service, with Olsen in November calling it the “missing aviation puzzle piece” for international tourism in the region to rebound from the pandemic.
“We have connected with the tourism trade three times in the past year, which was well received, but to be able to make the connections with the customers via direct flights will make the difference in our international recovery,” he said.
“Tropical North Queensland was making great traction with the shift in the China market prior to the pandemic away from large groups to higher spending smaller tailor-made groups and independent travellers.
“The Federal Government’s $15 million International Tourism Recovery Program funding will ensure TTNQ undertakes the campaign activity necessary to make the flights a success.”