Air China makes maiden direct flight to Washington

Updated: 2014-06-11 07:04

(China Daily USA)

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Air China makes maiden direct flight to Washington

An Air China Boeing 777-300 ER landed at Washington Dulles International Airport on Tuesday afternoon, marking the beginning of China's national flag carrier’s first direct flight between the capitals of China and the United States. [Chen Weihua / China Daily]

The touchdown of Air China's Boeing 777-300 ER on Tuesday afternoon at the Washington Dulles International Airport marks the beginning of China's national flag carrier's first direct flight linking the two capitals of China and the United States.

Air China Vice-Chairwoman Wang Yinxiang, in red, was elated despite a 13-hour flight.

"We are honored to connect the centers of governments of China and the United States. We are pleased to link two of the world's greatest capital cities with our new service, providing greater connectivity to promote bilateral trade, commerce and tourism between our two destinations," Wang said.

It was Air China's six direct flights to the US and seventh in North America. Other destinations include Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Houston, Honolulu and Vancouver.

Wang said the flight offers more options to passengers travelling between the two nations. It is estimated that some 10,000 people travel between the two countries every day.

"I am very excited that this bridge in the air will help promote economic, trade and personnel exchanges between the two countries," Wang said.

The Air China's maiden flight was greeted with a traditional water arch salute from two fire trucks. Meanwhile, Chinese lion dancers drummed and danced in and around the departure levels of the main terminal of Washington Dulles, where a ribbon cutting and gift exchange ceremony was held.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who took office in January, looked at Washington DC Deputy Mayor and said that if you want to come to the District of Columbia, you have to first come to Virginia.

He said students now can travel back and forth on the route for cultural exchange, adding that the Richmond Ballet from Virginia has been invited to perform in Beijing next year.

"It (the flight) helps our agriculture, it helps our development. It helps our tourism," said McAuliffe, who will lead a trade mission to China in October.

China is already the largest customer of Virginia's agricultural and forestry products. China is also one of the state's largest trade partner and a top investor.

District of Columbia Deputy Mayor Victor Hoskins, who has gone on trade mission to China in the past years, also praised the new route. "It is critical to accomplishing our five-year economic development plan," he said, adding that he expects more tourists China to land in Washington.

The District of Columbia has opened trade office in Shanghai and is opening one in Beijing, its sister city established 30 years ago.

The new flight service three-class cabins, with first class cabins featuring luxury suites, business class cabins boasting 180-degree flat-bed seats.

The non-stop service (CA 818) departs from Washington Dulles to Beijing at 5pm local time on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and arrives in Beijing the next day at 6:40pm local time. CA 817 takes off from Beijing on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 12:45pm local time and arrives at Dulles on the same day at 2:35pm.

"We welcome Air china's new capital-to-capital service between Beijing and Washington," said Jack Potter, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA).

"Air China provides a new travel alternative for passengers from Washington and the People's Republic of China to maintain important government relationships, conduct business, promote tourism, visit family and friends and learn more about the cultures of our great countries," he said. United Airlines, a dominant airline at Washington Dulles Airport, now operates daily flights between the two capitals. Both Air China and United Airlines are members of the Star Alliance, a coalition of 26 airlines.

Potter said he believes MWAA and Air China can build upon what started on Tuesday to a daily flight.

Zhihang Chi, vice president and general manager for North America of Air China, noted that it is not just a new route linking the two capitals but also a bridge of culture and people of the two great nations.

Li Wei, general manager of Air China's Washington office, said the reason for only having four flights per week is partially due to Air China's limited fleet resources. To keep up with Chinese citizen's outbound tourism fever and the flourishing exchange between the US and China, the airline has dramatically expanded its routes and upgraded its aircraft in recent years. Even so, it is still short of meeting all demands.

Jon Feidl, who was among some 30 locals who attended the Tuesday ceremony, said he is very excited. Hu Yaling, his wife for 14 years, will take the flight back to Beijing on Tuesday.

"Now we have the culmination of what Mao and (Zedong) and (Richard) Nixon met in 1972," said Feidl, from Haymarket, Virginia, and who has visited China many times.

Charlene Cai contributed to the story.

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