China Southern Airlines flew the first scheduled Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight into New Zealand yesterday, arriving in Auckland from the Chinese city of Guangzhou in what's being described as a significant boost for tourism.
Eleven dignitaries from the airline filed off the high-tech, carbon fibre aircraft which arrived just before 4pm and received a powhiri welcome.
The 787 replaces the Airbus A330 previously used on the daily Guangzhou-Auckland route - a service that will be ramped up to 10 flights a week come summer.
Glenn Wedlock, Auckland Airport's general manager of aeronautical commercial, said China Southern's decision to use the 787 on the route, which will increase the airline's seating capacity into Auckland by 5 per cent a year, would bring "significant benefits" for New Zealand's tourism industry.
In July China Southern announced it was bringing forward the daily 787 flights to October from December, when the carrier had previously intended to begin the service.
A second China Southern 787 will service the route three days a week over the peak summer season from December 4 to March 1, taking the total number of weekly flights to 10.
The Guangzhou-based airline's Dreamliner has 228 seats and is the first Dreamliner to have a first-class cabin.
Auckland Airport chairman Sir Henry van der Heyden said China was a major part of the airport's growth strategy.
"We want our Chinese visitors to have the best possible experience in New Zealand so last week we invested in new, multiple-language flight information display boards," he said. "The first foreign language we chose to display on these boards was Chinese - all Chinese flight information is now in Chinese."
Associate Tourism Minister Chris Tremain said the arrival of the Dreamliner was a testament to China Southern's continued commitment to New Zealand.
China is now New Zealand's second largest tourism market and forecasts show that arrivals from China are expected to more than double over the next 5 years to 450,000.
In the last 12 months to September 2013, there were over 236,000 Chinese visitors to New Zealand, contributing $645 million to our economy.
The 787 has been marred by problems since its 2011 launch.
Air New Zealand is due to have its Dreamliners - a stretch version of those currently in service - delivered from the middle of next year, more than three years late.