Regional airports are set to benefit from a 50% boost in the number of flights allowed between the UK and China.
A maximum of 100 passenger flights a week can operate between the two countries under existing rules agreed last year but this figure set to increase to 150 under the terms of a new deal.
The fresh arrangement allows for a huge expansion in routes from regional airports – potentially boosting local economies by hundreds of millions of pounds by opening up new business and tourism opportunities, according to the Department for Transport.
The previous deal saw limits on passenger flights between the UK and China raised from 40 a week to a maximum of 100.
Eight airlines currently operate nine routes between UK airports and five Chinese cities — Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chongqing and Qingdao.
The number of Chinese tourists visiting the UK has soared in the first half of the year. Between January and June, 115,000 visits were made from China to the UK, a rise of 47% on the same period last year. Spending also increased to £231 million, up 54%.
Chinese tourists are some of the UK’s highest spenders, staying longer and travelling more than visitors from other countries.
The first direct regional flight between the two countries was launched from Manchester airport last year, worth an estimated £250 million in economic benefits to the UK over the next decade.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling said: “These agreements are an important part of preparing Britain for a post-Brexit world and making sure we have access to key markets in the Far East, and they come at a time when our exports are growing and we continue to attract international investment.
“It just underlines that Britain will do well regardless of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations.
“The whole government is working to secure the best possible future relationship with the EU, and great progress has been made this week, but no one should believe that Britain’s future success depends on decisions taken in Brussels.”
Manchester airport chief executive Andrew Cowan said: “Our connections to both Beijing and Hong Kong have led to significantly higher volumes of exports and inward investment.”
He added that universities in the north of England “have benefited from increased international student numbers and research collaborations with Chinese institutions.”
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