by Xinhua writer Wang Bowen, Chen Wenxian
JERUSALEM, Sept. 12 (Xinhua) -- A Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner carrying 240 passengers landed at Ben Gurion Airport this morning at 7:36 a.m. local time (0436 GMT), ending the virgin flight of Hainan Airlines' new Shanghai-Tel Aviv route.
Beginning on Sept. 12, Hainan Airlines will be flying three times a week -- on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays -- between Shanghai and Tel Aviv, the first direct flight between Israel and the economic capital of China.
"The opening of the new flights will further facilitate people-to-people exchange and economic and trade cooperation between the two peoples," said Zhan Yongxin, China's ambassador to Israel, who added that by the end of the year, a new record would be set for tourist entries from China, with the number of Chinese tourists visiting Israel exceeding 100,000, which would double the figure from two years ago.
"Now we have two destinations from China landing at Ben Gurion airport. This morning with 15 minutes gap between the two flights is like a dream. We will continue to have a new record every month with number of tourists from China to Israel," said Amir Halevi, director general of Israel's Ministry of Tourism.
Hainan launched its first route from China's capital Beijing to Tel Aviv in April 2016. The airline announced that it was considering expanding its service on this route as demand surges.
The new direct flight from Shanghai would serve as a complement to the Beijing-Tel Aviv route, said Hainan Airlines VP Hou Wei.
According to him, the Beijing-Tel Aviv route has carried more than 75,000 passengers since its inaugural flight last April, among which about 30 percent are Israelis.
"The new direct flight from Shanghai to Tel Aviv could further accommodate the needs from tourists, businessmen and other people engaged in China-Israel ties. I hope to boost the number of visitors from both sides," Hou added.
The event has attracted much attention from Israel.
Before the first flight, Minister of Transport and Intelligence Yisrael Katz said the newly-added flight "is likely to provide an incentive for realizing the huge potential of incoming tourism from China, and bolster Israel's exposure as a desirable tourist destination."
Minister of Tourism Yariv Levin, currently visiting Shanghai, said Monday before he took off, "I congratulate Hainan for opening the route from Shanghai to Israel as part of its fruitful cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism. When I became minister, one of my main goals was to increase tourism from China, and we are now seeing a major rise in tourist traffic from that country."
Hainan Airlines, part of the HNA holding company with a fleet of 185 planes, is the largest private airline in China as well as the fourth largest airline in the country, after the government-owned China Eastern Airlines, Air China and China Southern Airlines.