Hainan Airlines, the fourth－largest carrier in China, launched a new route connecting two cities along the “One Belt, One Road” on April 27, with direct flights from Chongqing to Rome.
The carrier plans to operate bi-weekly flights between the two cities using an Airbus A330 aircraft with 260 seats, said company officials. It is the second route from Chongqing to Europe and first route to Western Europe from Southwest China.
The first flight to Rome, which took off on April 27, has already received good response with all seats on the flight fully booked, they said. Chongqing is the only municipality directly under the central government along the Belt and Road routes and Rome in Italy is the final destination of the ancient Silk Road.
“It is important for Hainan Airlines to connect the two cities located along the Silk Road,” said Xie Haoming, president of Hainan Airlines.
The “Belt and Road Initiative”, namely, the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, were put forward by President Xi Jinping in 2013.
The Silk Road Economic Belt is to be established along the ancient Silk Road trade route, stretching northwest from China’s coastal areas through Central Asia to Europe, while the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road will run from China’s south to Southeast Asia and even Africa.
So far, more than 60 countries along the routes and international organizations have shown interest in taking part in the two initiatives.
The “Belt and Road” strategy will boost international business travel demand to and from China, said Xie from Hainan Airlines, adding that the cooperation and trade between China, Central Asia, Europe and Africa will increase.
With the new Chongqing to Rome route, Hainan Airlines now has 14 connections on the “One Belt, One Road” routes, Xie said.
International business will account for 16 percent of Hainan Airlines’ annual income this year, up from the 13 percent seen in 2014, he said, adding that Chongqing in Southwest China has huge market potential for international routes.
Chongqing airport, which is the eighth largest in China in terms of turnover, will record more than 30 million trips this year, said Zhao Jiangping, chairman of Chongqing Airport Group Co Ltd.
The airport is eyeing business from passenger transfers to Europe and from the network connecting Europe, Australia and the US, Zhao said.
The government of Italy welcomes the new route and hopes that it will enhance communication between the European nation and Southwest China, said Sergio Maffettone, consul-general of Italy in Chongqing.
The route will provide a convenient option for Chinese residents who plan to visit the Expo Milano 2015 starting from May 1, said Maffettone. The Italian consulate in Chongqing expects to issue about 30,000 visas to Chinese residents during the Expo, he said.
Zhang Kun, a Chongqing resident, said he is considering traveling to Europe in May as the carrier is offering discounts to promote the route.
It costs just 5,000 yuan ($807.5) for the round-trip tickets, Zhang said, and what is more important is that he does not need to stop over in other cities when he travels to Europe.
“Maybe I will visit the Expo next month,” Zhang said.