The first ever direct, scheduled flight from anywhere outside of London to mainland China has launched, from Manchester Airport.
Also hailed as a significant moment for UK aviation, the Hainan Airlines service to Beijing took off from Manchester Airport on June 10, 2016.
Announced in October 2015 by the President of the People's Republic of China, His Excellency Xi Jinping, the four times a week route will link Manchester and Beijing, opening up a wealth of trade and tourism opportunities.
The flights will provide a direct connection for the first time, giving the 100,000 passengers travelling each year between the two cities the convenience of direct scheduled services.
The Manchester-Beijing route is worth at least £250 million in economic benefits to the UK over the next decade. Two-thirds of this will be felt directly in the Northern economy in terms of increased jobs, economic activity and tourism. By providing a non-stop service, the new route will also generate journey time savings worth £5 million every year for business passengers and avoid the inconvenience of changing planes at another airport.
It has been welcomed by businesses, universities and tourism bodies across the whole of the North (see case studies below).
Hainan Airlines is China's largest privately owned airline, and since 2011 it has won five consecutive global Skytrax five-star airline ratings. It is only one of only seven airlines in the world to currently have this accolade. Last year it was also rated as the Best Airline in China, by Skytrax.
Transport Minister Andrew Jones said: "The new route between Manchester and Beijing is a testament to the strength of the Northern Powerhouse, opening up the North of England to investment while benefitting the many thousands of people who currently travel between the cities each year.
"Not only will this add an estimated quarter of a billion pounds to the local economy over the next decade, it will open new opportunities for businesses in both countries, boost tourism between China and the UK and will encourage students in both countries to experience studying in a new and different culture. This is an exciting new development for Manchester, the North of England and the UK."
Ken O'Toole, CEO of Manchester Airport said: "Today's inaugural flight with Hainan Airlines is clear evidence of the vital economic role that Manchester Airport plays both nationally and regionally within the UK.
"Providing a direct link between the two cities unlocks significant trade and investment opportunities, which will serve as a shot in the arm to efforts to create a reenergised Northern economy.
"This direct route will also have a significant impact on inbound tourism across the whole of the North.
"And the early indications are good, with summer load factors currently averaging out at more than 80%.
"Finally, it will also deliver a boost to universities, both in terms of providing a vital service for Chinese students and their families, and when it comes to finding commercial applications for the world-leading research being carried out by these institutions."
Xie Haoming, President of Hainan Airlines, said: "We are delighted to commence our direct scheduled service to Manchester. Beijing to Manchester's inaugural outbound and inbound flight load factors have reached over 90%, which is incredibly strong for a new route.
"A great number of travel agencies expressed their strong interest in working with Hainan Airlines, based upon the new route, which is encouraging for future travel between the two cities.
"With the 'Golden Age' of travel starting between China and the UK, it is foreseeable that the market between the two countries is entering a prosperous period.
"I am sure the route between Manchester and Beijing will be incredibly popular and we look forward to developing our relationship with the city."
Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, said: "Manchester's first route to mainland China is a hugely significant development in our growing links with the world's fastest growing economy. The better connected Manchester is nationally and internationally, the better placed we will be to compete on a world stage, attracting jobs, investment and visitors. This route further strengthens Manchester Airport's status and Manchester's position as a global hub."
Rhys Whalley, Executive Director of the Manchester-China Forum, said:
"Today's launch of a direct route connecting Manchester and Beijing is a significant milestone for the entire region. Given its importance as a catalyst in boosting commercial, tourism, cultural and academic links, securing a direct route into Mainland China has been the Manchester China Forum's number one priority; so to be able to celebrate the launch of a non-stop service to Beijing today is a proud moment.
"Since the Forum's establishment, relations between Manchester and China have strengthened significantly - as evidenced by President Xi Jinping's visit during last year's State Visit. Today's route launch is another major milestone and will continue to drive investment into the city-region as well as open up trade opportunities to what is the world's most important emerging market.
"Hainan Airlines' decision to operate this scheduled route out of Manchester, the gateway to the North, is recognition of the scale of growing traffic and collaboration between our two regions and will be a huge boosts to businesses, students and tourists looking for a more convenient connections between Beijing and the North of England."
The four-weekly service departs on Friday, Saturday, Monday and Wednesday, and will be served by an Airbus A330-300. The cabin will have 32 business class seats and 260 in economy. Return fares start from £487.