China Eastern has delivered an early Christmas gift to Queenslanders, with the first direct flight between Shanghai and Brisbane touching down at Brisbane Airport on the weekend.

The year-round service will operate four direct flights every week between Brisbane and Shanghai, on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, establishing a critical link between Brisbane and China’s biggest city.

The new connection is expected to bring 18,000 additional Chinese visitors to Queensland every year.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was at Brisbane Airport (BNE) to welcome the new service, which she says will provide non-stop access between Queensland and the state’s largest international tourism market, China.

“It’s exciting to welcome this new service to Queensland, giving Chinese travellers even more opportunity to experience the unique wonders of our incredible stage,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“We know that every dollar we generate through tourism supports Queensland jobs.

“We have witnessed remarkable growth out of the China market recently with 485,000 Chinese travellers visiting Queensland in the past year, a 34 per cent increase.

“This market presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and by securing these additional flights we are helping meet the demand for Chinese tourists to visit Queensland.

“This new service is the result of the Queensland Government’s bilateral partnership with China Eastern Airlines.”

Julieanne Alroe, BAC CEO and managing director, said the launch was a significant step for the city and state in positioning Brisbane as a major Asia Pacific centre.

“The Chinese visitor market is currently the second largest for Brisbane Airport, experiencing 19 per cent growth in the last financial year,” Ms Alroe said.

“These direct China Eastern flights will help grow this important market which will have flow-on benefits for every sector of our economy, from business and investment to tourism, trade and education.

“As a major gateway to Australia we know that many international passengers arriving at Brisbane Airpoirt also travel on to other Queensland regions by road or via our extensive flight network spanning 48 domestic locations across Australia.

“When BNE’s New Parallel Runway becomes operational in just four short years it will deliver Brisbane Airport the most efficient runway system in Australia with similar capacity to Hong Kong and Singapore airports, providing even more opportunity to expand our network connections.”

China Eastern Airlines is China’s second largest airline, Shanghai’s home carrier and one of the ‘Big 3′ national airlines of China, with a fleet of more than 440 aircraft.

The airline will operate one of its new Airbus A330-200 aircraft on the route, with the new services leaving Brisbane at lunch time and arriving into Shanghai at 8pm, and return flights operating overnight to arrive back in Brisbane at 10:05am.

From its base at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport, China Eastern operates services to 217 destinations around the globe, including Europe, North America and throughout Asia. Flights are operated in codeshare with Qantas, so passengers can earn Frequent Flyer Points on the service.

“We know China Eastern has ambitions to operate the route as a daily service in the future and we look forward to working with them to make this a reality,” Ms Alroe said.