Birmingham is to get a new air link into one of the most influential industrial cities in China, it has been confirmed.
The ancient city of Guangzhou – now China’s economic powerhouse – will join fast-growing Emirates’ sprawling six-continent network on July 1.
Emirates currently operates a twice-a-day service from Birmingham International Airport to its main hub in Dubai.
And from Dubai, West Midlands business executives and leisure travellers will be able to fly directly to Guangzhou, Emirates’ fourth gateway in China, after Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong.
Guangzhou – once known in the West as Canton – is the third largest air travel hub in China and the capital of the Guangdong province. It is also Birmingham's partner city in China.
Apart from its industry, Guangzhou, which has a population of 9.5 million, also attracts visitors to its historical sites that include 123 state-protected sites, street shopping and its popular Cantonese cuisine. The city is due to host the 2010 Asian games.
Meanwhile, the Guangdong region has the highest GDP of all China’s provinces and the highest value of exports – an opportunity for West Midlands firms to key into potential big business opportunities.
Starting on July 1 Emirates EK362 service will fly non-stop from Dubai to Guangzhou four times weekly on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays in a two class configuration – 27 seats in business and 251 in economy. From October 1, Emirates will also fly on Fridays and from December 1, the service will become daily.
The airline’s decision to begin services to Guangzhou was praised by the leader of Birmingham City Council, Coun Mike Whitby, who is now hoping Birmingham International Airport will win its battle for an extension of its main runway.
In an increasingly global economy, Coun Whitby said that improved “connectivity is crucial” if Birmingham and the surrounding area are to make economic inroads into China, which he sees as a “challenge but an opportunity.”
Meanwhile, Emirates is planning to invest around £1.5 million in a new business lounge at Birmingham International, where it is currently handling around 18,000 passengers a month, with around 1,000 of those heading for destinations in China.
Emirates, which has ordered 58 of the world’s largest passenger planes, saw profit in its last fiscal year up 62 per cent despite higher fuel costs, as it boosted passenger and cargo traffic.
Profit attributable to its owner, the government of Dubai, was 5 billion dirhams (£686.8 million).
Emirates chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum said last month: “It was another record year, despite the challenging business climate, particularly in the second six months, where the soaring cost of jet fuel made a big dent.”
The airline’s fuel costs represented 30.6 per cent of costs, up from 29.1 per cent, as it wound up paying 500 million more than the 2.3 billion it had budgeted.
Emirates said fuel and oil costs were 10.3 billion dirhams, up from 7.5 billion. The global airline industry has been hammered by record high fuel prices.
The high costs were offset by an increase in both passenger and cargo numbers, which sharply boosted revenues.
Overall revenues stood at 36.4 billion dirhams, up 27 per cent.