LOGAN SEEKING CHINA FLIGHTS; Officials to meet with Hainan Airlines on trade trip

Massachusetts Port Authority officials will meet with Hainan Airlines during an upcoming state trade mission to China in their continuing efforts to land the first direct passenger flights between China and Boston's Logan International Airport.

Although Hainan Airlines has made no formal commitment to the service, it has told Massport that it plans to soon file for permission from China's equivalent of the Federal Aviation Administration to fly a Beijing-to-Boston route, according to Massport CEO and executive director Thomas J. Kinton Jr. The two sides have been in talks for three years.

``That doesn't guarantee it will happen, but it's a good first step,'' said Kinton, who'll be among several Massport officials on the China trip.

But even if Hainan Airlines wins route permission in China, service that Massport officials previously had hoped would start next year, it would be more likely to happen in early 2009. Deliveries of the 250-seat Boeing 787 Dreamliners on order by Hainan Airlines have been delayed, and the FAA would have to certify Hainan Airlines to offer service in the United States.

``I view this as a marathon not a sprint,'' Kinton said. ``We have a lot of competition in the United States. Every major market is after direct service to China.''

Most U.S. airlines launching new flights to China are doing so from their hubs in Atlanta, Chicago, Newark and John F. Kennedy International Airport, which is why Massport decided to target a Chinese carrier. And Kinton thinks that Massport has a convincing business case.

``While not a hub, Boston has enough demand for travel that we can document that is going to and from Beijing and Shanghai presently that would make a daily flight good business sense from an economic standpoint for an airline,'' he said.

Some 38,000 passengers traveled from Boston to the capital city of Beijing by way of other airports last year, and 30,000 traveled to Shanghai, based on ticket purchases for departures from Logan. And the number of people traveling from Boston to China is likely larger than those numbers represent, because some will buy separate tickets between Boston and New York, and then New York and China, for example, Kinton said.

Logan already has air cargo service to China. Yangtze River Express launched its inaugural air cargo flights from Boston to Shanghai in March. The first-in-New-England service leaves Logan three times a week using Boeing 747s.

Airline development manager Yil Surehan and deputy port director Nick Billows are among the other Massport officials who will take the trip to China, which will be led by Gov. Deval Patrick. The seven-day trade mission is tentatively scheduled for December 1-8.

Kinton believes the trip will make a strong impression on the Chinese companies.

``This is a different culture,'' he said. ``It makes a tremendous difference when you're accompanied by government leaders - in this case, our governor.''

The Massport delegation also will meet with representatives from Chinese Ocean Shipping Co., which has been shipping cargo containers from Boston's Conley terminal to China since 2002. Thevolume of containers handled by the company has increased by more than 440 percent since then, according to Kinton.

``It continues to be double-digit growth, and we're very fortunate to have them here given the growth that's occurring in China,'' he said. ``We need to continue to solidify this relationship.''

No budget has been set for the Massport officials' trip to China, according to Kinton. The tab will be split between the authority and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the state's development agency for renewable energy and the ``innovation economy,'' he said.

- dgoodison@bostonherald.com