It's official: Air China to begin flights to Beijing

Houston will get hours closer to the world's most populous country this summer with the launch of nonstop flights to Beijing on Air China.

The formal announcement Tuesday was exciting news for Houstonians like Yong Ma, a Conoco Phillips geophysicist who flies home to China about once a year to visit his parents. He said the service will shave hours off his journey to the Chinese capital.

It also will make it easier for his family to visit. Ma said that his parents, who haven't come to see him in Houston since he moved here a year ago, don't speak English and, if they had to make connections, "could get lost somewhere in the airport."

Now, he said, "I can have them fly directly here."

Air China, the flag carrier of the People's Republic, said the regular flight, four times a week, between Beijing Capital International and Bush Intercontinental airports is pegged to begin July 11 on 311-seat Boeing B777-300ER, pending approval by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The flight, which will depart from IAH's Terminal D, will be Houston's first nonstop to mainland China.

Zhihang Chi, Air China's vice president and general manager of North America, said during a ceremony and press conference on Tuesday that Houston is also the "first ever destination that Air China has added since we inaugurated our service in the U.S. in January 1981."

For the past three decades, Air China has flown nonstop to only three U.S. cities - New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco - from its main hub at its Beijing base.

"It is no longer enough," said Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who joined Chi on stage for the announcement, along with Houston's 12th Chinese Consul General Erwen Xu and the head of the Houston Airport System, Mario Diaz, as well as the airport system's chief operating officer, Lance Lyttle, and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston.

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