A direct link between Manchester and Shanghai has lifted off – four years after it was first scheduled to begin – while the airports group also published impressive annual results.

China’s Juneyao Air began direct flights between the two cities yesterday (July 1) – the only flight connecting the North of England and China’s financial centre.

Services will operate three times a week – on Mondays, Fridays and Sundays – and are being hailed as a boost for the region’s business and tourism sectors, with China currently the world’s top spender on international tourism with years of pent-up, post-pandemic demand set to be released.

Figures show that Chinese visitors each typically spend more than £3,800 compared with the average visitor spend of just over £800. The route was originally announced in November, 2019, using the state-of-the-art Boeing 787-900 Dreamliner to service the flights.

Juneyao Air had planned to begin flights from March, 2020, but the Government grounded all air links with China on February 5, 2020, as the horrifying scale of the Coronavirus pandemic began to emerge.

But now, the link has been launched, celebrated by dignitaries from China who arrived from Shanghai to mark the inaugural flight from Manchester yesterday morning.

Wang Junjin, Chairman of Juneyao Airlines, said: “Today marks another milestone for Juneyao Airlines as we successfully launched the route to Manchester, the second largest city in the United Kingdom. We feel deeply honoured and proud.

“After 18 years of development, Juneyao Airlines has become a more mature, high-quality international airline. We have always adhered to the strategy of building a high-value carrier and continuously promoting international development is one of our major strategies.

“We hope that this new route between China and the UK will provide more opportunities for exchanges between the two countries and contribute to the ongoing implementation of the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative and the pursuit of openness.”

Manchester Airport Group CEO, Ken O’Toole, said: “We know aviation is a critical enabler of growth for sectors that rely on access to global markets to reach their full potential and that is why it is great to see this new route operate from Manchester Airport.

“History tells us that every time new services to key global markets launch from regions outside of London, the create a significant economic ripple effect and that is sure to be the case with this route to Shanghai.”

He added: “As an island nation with exportable service industries at its economic core, direct air links like this will have a pivotal role to play in the drive to create a regionally balanced and globally competitive economy.

“That’s why the next government’s Industrial Strategy must be underpinned by a sustainable growth plan for aviation.”


Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said: “Opening up this route to Shanghai is another major milestone for Manchester Airport, connecting our city region to an important centre of global commerce and bringing new opportunities for trade, travel, and investment. For people and businesses across the North, Greater Manchester is the gateway to the world.”

Victoria Braddock, Managing Director at Marketing Manchester, said: “This is a significant milestone in strengthening the relationship between Greater Manchester and China, and we are pleased to welcome the arrival of Juneyao Airlines’ inaugural route from Shanghai to Manchester.

“We know from the success of flights from Beijing how important these connections are for the region’s economy and positioning the region as the UK’s Global Gateway to the North. Greater Manchester’s profile in China has risen significantly over the last few years, and we look forward to capitalising on the opportunities this route will bring for tourism, work, study and investment links between Shanghai and Manchester.”


Liverpool has been twinned with Shanghai since October, 1999, and Gary Millar, Chair and President of the Liverpool China Partnership, said

“We congratulate Manchester Airport and Juneyao Airlines for a job well done.

“In the year we celebrate the Liverpool-Shanghai Sister City 25th Anniversary, we know first hand that this new direct route will help create exciting opportunities for growth and friendship.

“Working together with our partners we look forward to continuing our role in welcoming more trade, investments, students and visitors, whilst helping explore and grow our links in education, health, sports and cultural exchange. Wishing you an auspicious, successful and happy partnership.”

Industry experts, Cirium, has also heralded the new route, which comes as its projections show that outbound traffic from Manchester Airport for 2024 will be up 10% year on year – and seven per cent higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Cirium CEO, Jeremy Bowen, said: “As Cirium data shows, Manchester is one of the most connected cities in the UK for flights. With the start of these new flights, 2024 is projected to see Manchester Airport offers more departing seats than before the pandemic and is helping secure its position as one of the most connected airports in the UK.

“We know this will bring significant economic benefits to the North of England as aviation is a great economic enabler and the more links an airport has, the greater benefits it can convey.”

Manchester became the first UK hub outside London to gain a direct flight to mainland China when Hainan Airlines launched its service to Beijing in 2016.

A report showed that export values from Manchester Airport to China grew 41% to £1.29bn in the two years after the route’s launch, while national values fell 30%. It is hoped the new route could have a similar impact.

The region’s universities are extremely popular with Chinese students so it is hoped the new route will have benefits for the 43 universities within two hours of Manchester Airport.

In the two years following the launch of the airport’s Beijing route the number of Chinese students in Manchester grew by nine per cent, compared with three per cent nationally, and there was a 114% increase in Northern students gaining Chinese internships, with more than 70% from low-income backgrounds.

Manchester Airports Group (MAG) also revealed its final results for the year ended March 31, 2024, today (July 2), which showed healthy jumps in revenues and profits.

Turnover for its three airports – Manchester, East Midlands and London Stansted – rose 20.5% to £1.237bn, while pre-tax profits of £218.4m were a stark comparison to the previous year’s £59.4m pre-tax loss, as the sector recovered from total shutdown in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Last year’s result was also heavily impacted by a one-off adjusted item charge of £119.7m following the extinguishment of the group’s deferred debt agreement for the exit from the Greater Manchester Pension Fund pension scheme. All of MAG’s defined benefit pension schemes are now closed to future accrual.

Total passenger numbers for the three airports improved by 13.5% to 61.3 million, beating pre-pandemic levels, with Manchester accounting for 28.8 million, London Stansted 28.5 million, and East Midlands four million.

MAG is investing heavily in its airports to support their growth and improve passenger experience, with plans to invest more than £2bn across its three airports over the next five years.

January 2024 marked one year of construction on the final phase of the Manchester Airport Transformation Programme (MAN-TP). The progress has seen Terminal 2’s old security hall stripped back, and work continued on the construction of the Terminal’s second pier.

At the same time East Midlands Airport announced the start of a £120m investment programme that will transform the passenger experience over the next five years and include an expansion to the security hall to accommodate next generation technology, an improvement to passenger facilities, an upgrade in air traffic control facilities and reconstruction of the airport taxiways.

The group also said that, across all its airports, growth was delivered while maintaining high levels of passenger satisfaction. The most recent survey of passengers showed that 91% rated their overall experience as either ‘good’, ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ across the group. During the year, all three of MAG’s airports received the highest possible rating from the Civil Aviation Authority for the service provided to passengers with assisted travel needs.