In flight meal
Sichuan Airlines launched its first direct flight from New Zealand to south west China. Supplied

Sichuan Airlines has launched its first direct flight from Chengdu, China to Auckland Airport on Tuesday. The inaugural flight arrived in New Zealand on 45 minutes early.

The direct service will operate year-round between Auckland Airport and Chengdu Shuangliu, China’s fifth busiest airport. It will run three times per week: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

The new Auckland route adds 81,000 seats per year to and from China. It will be Sichuan Airlines’ longest direct flight yet, with the A330-200 featuring 24 business class flat-bed seats. The new 13-hour direct service provides a seventh direct connection from Auckland Airport to a Chinese city.

Auckland Airport’s acting general manager Scott Tasker said the service would be beneficial for both tourism and trade. He believes the new route will open New Zealand to a broad new audience of travellers from China, provide cultural tourism opportunity for New Zealanders and support trade links between the two countries.

Sichuan Airlines' new service will operate year-round between Auckland Airport and Chengdu Shuangliu. Supplied

Tasker noted that China has become New Zealand’s second largest trading partner next to Australia. He said the increased cargo capacity that Sichuan Airlines provides between Chengdu and Auckland would mean further growth in the trade of high value goods.

JC Shi, Sichuan’s general manager for New Zealand, said customers can expect to be thrilled by the authentic in-flight service whatever class of travel they choose. Shi revealed they will bring Sichuan cuisine, which he said is one of China’s four big cuisines, into the cabin. “Authentic dishes such as hot pot, firewood chicken and barrel fish will be sure to delight and awaken the senses of first time visitors on board,” he said in a press release.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges New Zealand is in a strong position to attract airlines, saying they have 60 new or amended air services agreements since 2012, the NZ Herald reports. He said the latest Sichuan service reflects the growing trade and tourism links between New Zealand and China and increased the number of airlines now operating from China to New Zealand from five to six.

Chengdu is among western China’s most significant economic centres and a main transportation hub. It is home to some 14.5 million people. In the year that ended on March 2017, 404,384 Chinese visitors came to New Zealand, which means the country is increasingly popular for Chinese tourists.

Sichuan Airlines was founded in 1986 and currently operates over 240 routes. These include long-haul services to Australia, Europe, Canada and the United States. For other news in New Zealand, watch the video below.

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