China Southern is boosting capacity between Auckland and its home base in Guangzhou this summer, introducing a brand-new Boeing 787-9 to the route.
The new plane has 30 per cent more capacity than the smaller model Dreamliner now flying between the two cities.
The giant Chinese Government-owned airline is also using a 787-9 on Guangzhou-Christchurch flights from the end of next month, a move estimated to be worth an extra $66 million in visitor spending.
China Southern's New Zealand general manager, Lily Wang, said the airline wanted to capitalise on the New Zealand-China Year of Tourism in 2019. It hoped to increase travel in both directions.
''First we enlarge capacity then we can increase the volume of passengers,'' she said.
Its 787-9s have 28 business class seats and 268 in economy. They can also carry three tonnes more freight than the planes they are replacing.
China Southern started operations to New Zealand in April 2011 and has grown from three flights a week to as many as 14 to Auckland and seven to Christchurch in the summer high season.
The aircraft are powered by GE engines, so they are not caught up in the current alert over Rolls-Royce engines on some Dreamliners used by airlines including Air New Zealand.
Wang said that in May her airline moved to use a new terminal in Guangzhou. Terminal 2 can handle about 45 million passengers a year and has direct rail links to the centre of the city, a megalopolis in the southeast corner of China.
The majority of passengers using China Southern were inbound from China, New Zealand's second biggest source of visitors behind Australia.
About 450,000 Chinese visitors came to New Zealand in the year to June, an increase of 13 per cent on the previous year. Spending was up to $1.7 billion, an 11 per cent increase on the previous year.
Wang said it was still a challenge to attract more Kiwis to the airline but there was a growing awareness of it, especially among business class travellers.
A common reaction was that the airline exceeded expectations.
While its load factor was around 85 per cent in the past year - up 2.5 per cent on the previous 12 months - yields were under pressure because of intense competition.
In the coming year, business class seats would sell for between $4500 and $5000 return to Europe. Base economy fares would be $1300 to $1500. Most Kiwis fly on the airline to get to its European destinations - Amsterdam, Paris, London, Frankfurt, Rome and Moscow.
Wang, who started work in Auckland this year, has served China Southern for the past 24 years, in Xinjiang in northwest China (her home region), Guangzhou and Moscow.
The airline this week announced it would sponsor a Chinese language competition for flights to Guangzhou in association with the Guangzhou Tourism Bureau.
Five winners of a Chinese phrase competition will win an all-expenses-paid visit to China's third largest city.
China Southern operates more than 2000 daily flights to 224 destinations in 40 countries and regions across the world. It carried more than 126 million passengers last year.