YEARS of backroom lobbying by the current and former governments could see direct flights from China landing in Darwin within months.
The Chinese Civil Aviation Administration announced on Wednesday that Donghai Airlines, based in the southern city of Shenzhen, had applied for approval to fly direct to Darwin, with flights possibly landing as early as September this year.
Tourism Minister Lauren Moss said the approval was a “positive step forward” after years of discussions but that there was still more red tape to work through.
“I think the fact that we are seeing Chinese airlines show intent to come to the Northern Territory is a positive first step,” Ms Moss said.
“I think we’d hope to see services on the ground as soon as possible; that’s certainly what we are working towards.
“It is the result of ongoing work that I’m very proud to be a part of.”
Ms Moss met with the airline on a recent trip to China.
The NT tourism industry is still reeling after Malaysia Airlines cancelled its direct service between Darwin and Kuala Lumpur late last month.
Australia China Business Council NT branch president Daryl Guppy said the goal for flights to begin in September could be optimistic.
Mr Guppy said Donghai Airlines — which was founded as a cargo company in 2002 — could be planning to fly freight through Darwin, but that it was too early to know what the company’s precise plans were.
Donghai Airlines chairman Wong Cho-Bau last year said the airline’s strategy was to expand its passenger services and turn its home city into “the transportation hub in southern China”.
The company last year signed up to purchase 25 new Boeing 737 MAX8s, which can carry up to 200 passengers.
Nineteen tourism operators were on Wednesday awarded official China Ready accreditation, a program aimed at preparing businesses to better target Chinese tourists.
A total of 15,000 Chinese tourists visited the Territory last year.
By CRAIG DUNLOP