Sichuan Airlines' first flight has arrived in Auckland just on 45 minutes early.

The near-new Airbus A330 touched down just after 6pm from the Sichuan capital Chengdu and its three-flights-a-week service adds to 39 services linking New Zealand to the Chinese mainland.

The province is in the south-west of China and has a population of around 87 million.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges New Zealand was in a strong position to attract airlines, with a liberal international air transport policy that allowed most major airlines to operate services to New Zealand without restriction

"We have negotiated 60 new or amended air services agreements since 2012, and in that time period, the number of services Chinese airlines can offer each week under arrangements between our countries has risen from 7 to 59.

New Zealand was increasingly popular for Chinese visitors. In the year ended March 2017, 404,384 Chinese visitors came here ─ an increase of seven per cent on the year before. Visitors from China spent NZ$1.45 billion, second only to the spending by visitors from Australia.

The new Sichuan service was a reflection of the growing trade and tourism links between China and New Zealand, and it raised the number of airlines now operating from China to New Zealand from five to six, he said.


The airline is aggressively growing its international operations and aims to have 180 narrow and wide body aircraft in its fleet by 2020, up from 123 now.

Sichuan's A330-200 service is expected to add 81,000 seats a year and deliver an estimated $102 million annual boost to the New Zealand economy

Sichuan Airlines' general manager in New Zealand, J C Zhi, said flights here were part of a global push to open up the "Panda Route" to Chengdu and beyond by the airline, which was founded just on 30 years ago.