Business leaders say a direct flight from Birmingham Airport to China is vital if the region is to benefit from the enormous spending power of the emerging economy.
The men at the top of companies trading in China say travel to the Far East is too difficult from the West Midlands – which is off-putting in terms of inward investment.
Beijing Airport alone has flights to 69 foreign cities, with companies worldwide competing for access to China’s growing middle class, expected to expand to 700 million people by 2020.
Birmingham Airport, which is currently seeking to extend its runway to allow for flights to major cities like Shanghai or Beijing, hopes to have flights up and running to China by 2014.
Peter Henderson, who sold his previous business, Lichfield-based Valve Train Components after breaking into China, said he flies via Frankfurt and Paris to the Far East – but believes West Midland businesses are at a disadvantage to those in many other European cities.
He said: “Air France runs great midnight flights back from China which get you back to Paris at about six o’ clock. It is so simple.
“You can be in the office for a day’s work at nine o’ clock whereas if you fly to London it takes you two hours to get out of Heathrow and by the time you have driven to the West Midlands it is safe to say you have lost a day.
“Imagine you are a businessman in China who wants to invest, you’re going to get off the plane in London and you aren’t going to Birmingham.”
Mr Henderson, as managing director of HZ Associates advises businesses on dealing with China, added: “The only thing that will help the West Midlands get in better shape is to get companies into it and create jobs.
“We need people to come into the West Midlands and set companies up and China seems to be a good place to do that.”
Emerging nations like China and India could become reachable without a stop if the long-awaited 350-metre runway extension can be negotiated.
Andrew Ives, chairman of Coventry-based textile company Cash’s, which supplies into China and has an office in Shanghai, currently flies on Emirates to Dubai, and on to China from there.
He said: “If we are serious as a region about our intentions to trade with China we need to be having direct flights to Beijing and Shanghai from Birmingham – which is a good airport. There doesn’t appear to be any reason we can’t do that.”
An airport spokesperson said a number of airlines offer one-stop flights to China from Birmingham, including the likes of Emirates, Air France-KLM, Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines.
He added: “These services negate the need for lengthy and often stressful journeys by road to airports elsewhere in the UK, journeys that incur a monetary and time cost. In fact, with short connection times it can often be quicker and easier to reach China from Birmingham.
“Our aspiration remains to have a runway extension operational by 2014. With this in place we hope to attract direct services to the likes of China, which we know are of vital importance to the region’s economy.
“Proving that demand for such routes exist from Birmingham now, will help to convince carriers of the airport’s future potential.”
* There is a special section on trading with China read this week’s Birmingham Post