Discussions have been under way for some time between the airline and Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) and the airline is close to finalising a schedule for the flights, the Sunday Independent has learned. The flight will operate on alternate days to Dublin and Edinburgh in Scotland and this has added complexity to the scheduling and slot negotiations, it is understood. Hainan Airlines is China’s fourth-largest carrier and is owned by the huge HNA conglomerate, which also owns Dublin-based aircraft leasing firm Avolon.
Local Fine Gael councillor Tom O’Leary, who has campaigned for the direct flights, said that detailed negotiations were “progressing very positively”.
“My understanding is that flights may possibly commence in October,” he said. “Fingal has a wonderful opportunity to capitalise on the potential that this new flight destination offers. Local companies need to start planning now to avail of this opportunity.”
A DAA spokesman said it “does not comment on whether or not it is in discussions with specific airlines in relation to potential new services”.
Dublin is already undergoing a boom in eastbound traffic with the recent arrival of Qatar Airways adding to a strong presence of Middle Eastern carriers, including Etihad and Emirates.
But, to date, no airline has launched a direct route from the Far East to Ireland. But interest in Ireland to Asia routes has been growing. Last week, Japan Airlines flew the first-ever direct flight from Japan to Dublin, a one-off charter with 240 Japanese travel industry professionals on board.
But the Chinese market is seen as key for both tourism and business reasons. Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons described a direct link with China as “vital”.
“We have worked very closely with DAA on this and we put a proposal on the table in relation to joint marketing with Hainan and that is in place. We are very excited about the prospect of this flight,” said Gibbons.
Tourism Ireland has already seen a significant increase in Chinese visitors this year, he said.
“We had originally put together a strategy to see 50,000 Chinese visitors by 2017 and the latest indications from 2016 data is that there were possibly as high as 70,000 Chinese visitors. We know that attractions such as the Guinness Storehouse are already up 40pc on Chinese visitors this year.”
In 2016 the number of outbound tourists from China reached 122 million, and they spent almost $110bn in overseas destinations.