Birmingham Airport wants to restart a direct flight link to China. [China Daily]
Birmingham Airport may be close to resurrecting a direct air route to China, while Edinburgh Airport is also hoping to invigorate Scottish tourism and business links with China through its own long-haul connection－as both British airports go on the active hunt for direct flights to the mainland.
For Birmingham, if negotiations with an as yet unnamed airline succeed, it will be the first link between that city and China since 2015, when a Chinese tour operator ran summer charter flights bringing holiday makers to the English Midlands region.
"Demand for flights to China from Birmingham is significant, driven mainly by the Midlands' strong trading relationship with China and we are in discussions with a carrier to reinstate services in the future following our successful Beijing operations in 2014 and 2015," a spokesperson for Birmingham Airport said.
In October, China and the UK's transport departments agreed to increase the maximum number of weekly flights between the two nations from 80 to 200.
There are currently 38 flights a week operated by Chinese airlines between both countries, while British airlines operate 29. The news was welcomed by industry players, however, it is challenging for UK airports that are not large transfer hubs to convince airlines to establish new long haul routes, according to Zheng Lei, director of the Centre for Aviation Research at the University of Surrey.
Zheng said that for the airlines, the biggest concern was demand.
"The airport needs to convince the airline there is sufficient demand in the airport's catchment area. And it's very difficult to get enough traffic for long-haul flights on a daily basis. That's why they operate on hub networks," he said.
"Airports such as Edinburgh, Birmingham and Manchester are not hubs, so it's very difficult to convince airlines to fly direct into their region. They have to rely on local traffic rather than transfers and the local market may not be big enough."
Tourism and transport officials in Edinburgh - in the top five urban centers in the UK visited by Chinese tourists, have officially lobbied for a direct link with China since 2015.
That's when the City of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Airport and Marketing Edinburgh launched the Edinburgh China Air Link Project. Last week the project landed its first commercial sponsor, jeweler Laing Edinburgh.
"Private sector support shows the nature of the commitment the city has to a direct air route," said Rob Laing, head of marketing at Edinburgh Airport.
"Edinburgh is the second most popular destination with Chinese tourists behind London in the United Kingdom, and we want to make sure that any potential airlines appreciate the scale of the support the private sector will offer as well."
A number of major airlines offer direct routes between London and China, including Virgin, British Airways and Air China, while Hainan Airlines connects China and Manchester.
In October 2016, British Airways terminated its direct route from London to Chengdu, stating it was no longer commercially viable.