China Eastern Airlines has plans to build up to daily services on its Auckland-Shanghai service.
The airline announced details of its four times a week service from the end of September and says it will trial services up to seven days a week from next January. It is the latest mainland Chinese carrier to expand its operations here after operating 84 flights in a limited seasonal service last summer.
Shanghai-based China Eastern will go head to head with Air New Zealand on the route and is launching its service with fares as low as $588. Although these are limited to the first six flights, general manager for Oceania Kathy Zhang said direct competition on the route will be good for passengers.
"It is absolutely good news for the consumers."
From September it will use a new Airbus A330-200 on the route, flying on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
The airline is the fifth biggest in the world by the number of passengers carried and is expanding quickly in this region. Zhang said it began with five services a week to Sydney five years ago but had built this to 30 a week and in partnership with Qantas had plans to expand even further.
She said permanent daily flights to Auckland would depend on demand.
"It's planned to be year round but we have to look at the market. If we found that after the peak season we don't need those flights we will drop back to four times a week."
The airline expected the fast-growing Chinese tourist market to create demand initially.
Latest figures show about 310,000 Chinese visitors in the year to May, up 29 per cent on a year ago.
China is New Zealand's second biggest tourist market.
Zhang said the airline hoped to build up its business and education market.
"New Zealand is a big country, there are still many opportunities."
While the rate of economic growth had slowed and Chinese stocks had tumbled this month, there remained the appetite to travel from the growing middle class in China, she said.
China Eastern's A330 for the Auckland route has 240 seats, 28 of which will be lie-flat beds.
The airline is one of China's "big three" state-owned carriers and flies more than 80 million passengers a year to more than 350 destinations within China, as well as 40 international destinations. Zhang said its fleet of 528 aircraft were an average of less than seven years old.
Tourism Export Council chief executive Lesley Immink said she welcomed the increased capacity but said unless they were arriving during shoulder season there wasn't enough accommodation available in either Auckland or Queenstown, especially during Chinese New Year.
"Tourism New Zealand is now promoting shoulder season travel but I fear agreements with airlines may include extra capacity during Chinese New Year. If so, this could seriously displace some of our traditional high yielding markets from travelling to New Zealand in February and March," she said.
Auckland Airport's general manager aeronautical commercial Norris Carter said there were signs rapid growth from China would continue.
"We've had one or two other Chinese carriers looking at maybe doing charters. We're talking all the time to people about possibly expanding their operations into Auckland."
• One of China's big three state-owned airlines.
• Fifth biggest carrier in the world by passenger numbers with 80 million travellers last year.
• 528 aircraft, average age across the fleet is less than seven years.
• A member of Sky Team Alliance.
In the wings
Services about to start
• China Southern Airlines to go to double daily in August.
• China Eastern starts four times a week services in September.
• Air China scheduled to start daily Beijing-Auckland services in December.
• Cathay Pacific using bigger and newer planes on Auckland-Hong Kong route from the end of the year.
• China's Hainan Airlines investigating flights to this country.