Before the COVID pandemic turned Melbourne Airport into a virtual ghost town, around 70 flights arrived from mainland China weekly. Throughout the pandemic, just one Chinese airline, Xiamen Airlines, has maintained continuous service from China to Melbourne, but that changed today.

China Eastern is back in a Shanghai Airlines plane

MEL's Jim Parashos on the right and Brendan McClements from Visit Victoria on the left.

MEL’s Jim Parashos on the right. Photo: Melbourne Airport

This morning at 09:37, China Eastern Airlines flight MU37 landed at Melbourne Airport (MEL), the first time the flight had operated since October 22nd, 2020. The flight, operated by China Eastern subsidiary Shanghai Airlines, departed Shanghai Pudong International (PVG) yesterday at 20:38 for the ten-hour flight to Melbourne. The aircraft operating was a three-year-old Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, registration B-20CD and MSN 63714, which headed back to Shanghai at 12:04.

According to fleet data from, Shanghai Airlines has seven Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, with two aircraft, registrations B-20CD and B-1111, on a wet lease ACMI charter to China Eastern. Today’s aircraft has a four-class layout of 285 seats, including four in first class, 26 in business, 28 in premium economy and 227 in the economy cabin. China Eastern will operate to Melbourne four times weekly.

China Southern tomorrow

China Southern Airbus A350

 Photo: Airbus

Tomorrow a second of China’s Big 3 will also return to Melbourne when China Southern Airlines flight CZ321 arrives from Guangzhou Baiyun International (CAN). The flight last operated on November 29th, 2021, and the service is scheduled to resume using an Airbus A350-900. China Southern has 16 A350-900s, all listed as active by ch-aviation. The airline has plenty of widebody aircraft for this route, including 40 Airbus A330s, 15 Boeing 777s and 27 787s in its fleet of more than 600 aircraft. By the end of March, it plans to operate the Guangzhou-Melbourne route with ten flights weekly.

Melbourne Airport’s chief of aviation, Jim Parashos, said having so many carriers return so quickly shows China’s airlines’ confidence in Victoria and the importance they place on Melbourne. He added:

“By March, we’re hopeful of being at almost 50% of pre-pandemic capacity from mainland China, which while very welcome, also underscores how much further we have to go.”

Air China in February

Air China A350 on approach.

Photo: Tom Boon | Simple Flying

Other Chinese carriers that will soon land at Melbourne Airport are Sichuan Airlines, Air China and Beijing Capital Airlines. Sichuan will be recommencing flights from Chengdu on January 31st, Air China will fly three times a week from Beijing starting February 1st, and Beijing Capital is restarting twice weekly services from Qingdao in February. The highly loyal Xiamen Airlines has increased its Xiamen frequency from once a week to three times weekly.

So far, Melbourne Airport has managed to get through post-COVID restarts relatively trouble-free, but all this capacity coming on so quickly may put the airport and its partners through the wringer. Parashos touched on that by revealing that ground-handling companies are now recruiting for hundreds more local staff to help service the returned capacity. He said:

“It’s so exciting to see China’s major carriers returning to Melbourne and the growth in the airport workforce that comes with that. These services will bring hundreds of mainland Chinese tourists, business leaders and students into Victoria every day, so the employment and economic benefits go much further than Melbourne Airport.”

What most Australian travelers want is to see airfares come back to reasonable levels, particularly to Europe. This added capacity flooding in from China, plus the extra flights from Emirates announced yesterday, will hopefully get that pendulum swinging back toward cheaper fares.

Are you optimistic fares will soon start to fall? Let us know in the comments.


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