by Maria Spiliopoulou
ATHENS, Aug. 28 (Xinhua)-- Chinese flagship airline Air China is launching direct flights between Beijing and Athens this September in cooperation with the Athens International Airport (AIA), one more landmark in the bilateral ties which is expected to help bring people of the two nations closer.
On Wednesday, an Air China AirbusA330-200 aircraft will land at AIA for the first time directly from Beijing, Chinese and Greek officials told a press conference at the Chinese embassy in Athens on Monday.
The plane with a 237 seating capacity will be from now on connecting Beijing and Athens twice a week, each on Wednesday and Saturday and vice versa without any stopovers.
Since 2011, Air China which opened its offices in Athens back in 2005, was operating a Beijing-Athens line with a short stopover in Munich every Wednesday and Saturday.
The introduction of the direct flights was warmly welcomed by representatives of both sides on Monday as a significant step that will help further advance the Sino-Greek relations, increase the number of visitors in two-way tourism and promote people-to-people exchanges.
"The long expected launch of direct flights between Beijing and Athens on September 30 will contribute to enhancing the status of Greece as a prominent hub of transport and an attractive destination for Chinese tourists," Chinese Ambassador to Greece Zou Xiaoli said at the press conference which was attended by officials from Greek ministries and the tourism industry.
"More importantly it will demonstrate once again to the whole world that with shared commitment and synergy we can make our dreams come true," Zou stressed.
"We are extremely excited to welcome now the direct flight between Beijing and Athens. It is a dream come true and we put great hopes into the development of the China-Greece relations," Athens International Airport CEO Yannis Paraschis told Xinhua.
Despite the difficulties Greece faced during the seven-year debt crisis, it remains a very attractive tourism destination and the AIA has seen between 2013 and 2017 a total passenger growth of 75 percent, he noted.
In order to welcome more Chinese visitors to Greece for business or leisure, the AIA has made preparations to facilitate and accommodate their needs, Paraschis stressed.
On his part, Qiao Shuwen, general manager of Air China's affiliate in Athens, voiced optimism that in a couple of years, thanks to this landmark, the number of Chinese visitors to Greece will double.
"China and Greece have a good relationship and the Chinese government and Greek government have sown the friendship to bring many of the Chinese tourists to Greece... We also want to bring more Greeks to China...This is our target," he told Xinhua.
Greek and Chinese officials have put emphasis on increasing the travelers' flows between the two countries.
Established in 1988 with a fleet of over 600 aircrafts, Air China has been constantly expanding its presence in particular in Europe in recent years and currently is the largest carrier between China and Europe offering about 200 flights each week on 20 routes to European cities.