A cloud of uncertainty hangs over plans to establish direct flights between Perth and Shanghai, with proposed operator China Eastern Airlines yet to commit to a route the Western Australian state government said could be trialled as early as October.
The proposed trial was one of the much-hyped accomplishments from WA Premier Mark McGowan’s first overseas delegation – a tourism and education sector-focused trip to China in November last year.
At the time, Mr McGowan said China Eastern’s chairman Liu Shaoyong had expressed confidence in WA as a future growth market.
But in the lead up to October, no further details have been announced by state government agency Tourism WA, Perth Airport or China Eastern.
Several industry sources who spoke to Australia China Business Review on condition of anonymity said China-focused inbound tour operators had been informed that the flight trial was more likely to commence in early February, to cater for an expected influx of demand for travel around Lunar New Year celebrations.
However, a spokesperson for China Eastern’s Australian operations told Australia China Business Review that while discussions between the WA government, the Chinese government and the airline’s head office had occurred, there were no details of the proposed flights to disclose.
A Tourism WA spokesperson also declined to comment specifically on the flight trial.
“Developing aviation access is an important part of Tourism WA’s Two-Year Action Plan to grow tourism and the agency is meeting with airlines to develop direct routes from key markets,” the spokesperson said.
“However, discussions around airline development and negotiations are confidential.”
Providing more aviation access between Western Australia and China has been a key priority of Premier McGowan’s government, which unveiled a new $30 million partnership between Tourism WA and Perth Airport earlier this month.
A key priority of the ‘Team Perth’ partnership is to increase capacity from China, the world’s fastest growing outbound tourist market.
Data from Tourism Australia shows Chinese tourists are visiting Australia at record-high levels, with 1.4 million arrivals in the 12 months to the end of July, a 10.6 per cent rise on the previous corresponding 12 months.
The latest data from Tourism WA showed 57,200 Chinese tourists visited WA in the year to March 31, an 8.6 per cent increase on the prior year.
The only direct flights to China currently on offer from Perth are operated by China Southern Airlines, between Perth and Guangzhou, and Cathay Pacific, which flies between Perth and Hong Kong.