International capacity to Melbourne Airport is set to significantly increase after major Chinese airlines announced they would return to the Victorian capital.
China Eastern Airlines became the first of the major airlines to return, resuming regular flights from Shanghai on Tuesday.
A 787-9, B-20CD, from subsidiary Shanghai Airlines departed China’s biggest city at 8:38 pm on Monday as flight MU737 and landed in Melbourne at 9:37 am on Tuesday.
Elsewhere, Xiamen Airlines, which has flown the only continuous service into Melbourne from mainland China through the pandemic, has increased its frequency from once a week to three times a week.
The country’s largest airline, China Southern Airlines, is due to resume service from Guangzhou on Wednesday and by the end of March, will have ten flights a week from Melbourne.
Sichuan Airlines will also restart flights from Chengdu; Air China will fly three times a week from Beijing; and Beijing Capital Airlines will restart its service from Qingdao.
The increase means Melbourne will move from servicing just one flight a week from mainland China in recent months to boasting 50 per cent pre-pandemic capacity by March.
It comes despite Australia asking those arriving from China to test negative before boarding the aircraft, in response to the country effectively opening its borders.
The move led to a backlash from the airline industry, with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) earlier this month accusing countries of playing politics.
In a strongly worded statement, its director general, Willie Walsh, called the decisions “extremely disappointing” and said the rules would prove ineffective at keeping infections down.
“Research undertaken around the arrival of the Omicron variant concluded that putting barriers in the way of travel made no difference to the peak spread of infections,” said Walsh.
“At most, restrictions delayed that peak by a few days. If a new variant emerges in any part of the world, the same situation would be expected.
“That’s why governments should listen to the advice of experts, including the WHO, that advise against travel restrictions.
“We have the tools to manage COVID-19 without resorting to ineffective measures that cut off international connectivity, damage economies and destroy jobs.
“Governments must base their decisions on ‘science facts’ rather than ‘science politics’.”
The IATA is a trade association of the world’s airlines founded in 1945, and its head was a previous CEO of both Aer Lingus and British Airways.
Walsh’s intervention follows New Zealand refusing to implement new rules, and after it emerged Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, was strongly against the restrictions, which he said were “disproportionate to risk”.