HELSINKI, April 8 (Xinhua) -- An Airbus 330 operated by China Tibet Airlines landed at the Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport late on Monday, opening the weekly direct flights between Jinan, Shandong Province of China and Helsinki, capital of Finland.
Kimmo Maki, CEO of Finnish airports group Finavia, greeted the flight at the entrance of the bridge. "We have been waiting for this moment for years," he told Xinhua.
The new flight route will provide unique opportunities for Finnish and European tourists to travel to Jinan and Lhasa, said Maki.
Tibet Airlines is also the first Chinese airlines to run commercial flights to Finland, he added. Currently there are seven direct flights between Finland and China, all run by Finnair. Tibet Airlines has one flight to Finland every week in April and will possibly run two weekly flights in June.
Vantaa and Jinan have been sister cities since 2001, and actual efforts for direct flights have been made for three years, said Mayor of Vantaa Ritva Viljanen. With the opening of the new route, the twin cities are made "neighbors just a couple of hours apart," she stressed.
"Last year when the Mayor visited Jinan, we promised we will start the air route on April 8," said Bai Weishan, general manager of Tibet Airlines, "and now we are here." Bai believed the huge population and massive industrial base of Shandong Province will ensure the prosperity of the new air route.
Viljanen agreed that great opportunities lie between the two cities despite their difference in size -- Vantaa has 250,000 inhabitants whereas Jinan has 9 million. Both cities have developed rapidly and thus share common interest like innovation, as start-ups can gain a lot of potential possibilities via this new route, said Viljanen.
The new route starts from Lhasa in the morning to Jinan at mid-day, then continues to fly to Helsinki until about 8 p.m. local time (1800 GMT). The whole flight takes about 13 hours, with 9 hours between Helsinki and Jinan, and three and half hours between Jinan and Lhasa.
The headquarters of Tibet Airlines is located in Chengdu, and its operating base is Gongga Airport in Lhasa. It has an all-Airbus fleet with 32 aircraft and over 3,000 employees. Its corporate vision is "to be the world's leading very high elevation flight."