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Nonstop flights to China called a win for Boston

Hainan Airlines, which has won US approval of Boston-to-Beijing flights, opened service to Chicago in September.

M. SPENCER GREEN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Hainan Airlines, which has won US approval of Boston-to-Beijing flights, opened service to Chicago in September.

The Chinese carrier Hainan Airlines has received federal approval to offer nonstop service from Boston to Beijing starting in June 2014, providing a boost to Logan International Airport’s global ambitions and the state’s strengthening economic ties to China.

Hainan would initially offer four flights a week between the two cities, according to filings the company made to the US Department of Transportation last month. The federal agency approved the Boston service last week. The approval was first reported by the Boston Herald.

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Hainan would still have to sign an agreement with Logan’s operator, the Massachusetts Port Authority, before it could begin service from the airport. Massport officials declined to comment. Officials at Hainan Airlines could not be reached for comment Monday night

Massport has aggressively wooed airlines to expand the nonstop routes offered between Logan and the Middle East and Asia to establish Boston as a gateway city for international air travel.

Last year, Japan Airlines began offering service to Tokyo. Turkish Airlines announced over the summer that it will offer nonstop flights between Boston and Istanbul in May. In September, Emirates unveiled its plans for nonstop service between Boston and Dubai in the coming months.

Boston’s business leaders and tourism officials have pushed for direct flights to China for several years. Last year, China ranked as the state’s fourth largest foreign market, behind Canada, the United Kingdom, and Japan. Massachusetts business sold $1.9 billion in merchandise to China in 2012.

Chinese visitors, meanwhile, are a growing segment of the state’s tourism industry, lured by the region’s high-profile universities, top-flight medical centers, historic sites, and shopping opportunities. Chinese executives are also coming to Boston to attend conferences and training sessions at local business schools.

Last year, 150,000 visitors from China came to the state, a nearly 8 percent increase from 2011, according to the US Commerce Department. Only Canada and the United Kingdom had more travelers to Massachusetts.

The direct flights should encourage more Chinese visitors to base their US trips out of Boston, instead of making side trips after entering the country in New York, said Evan Saunders, the chief executive of Attract China, a marketing company that works with local hotels and restaurants to reach the Chinese market. That should mean longer stays and more spending here.

“It’s very exciting,” Saunders said. “It opens up a lot of New England to more than just a quick trip.”

In its filing with the Transportation Department, Hainan said it expects to increase flights between Boston and Beijing to about seven a week by August 2014 and serve more than 5,000 passengers a month.

Hainan plans to use Boeing 787 Dreamliners — the high-tech but troubled-plagued planes — to fly between the two cities.

Hainan launched its first nonstop service to the United States to Seattle in 2008. Earlier this year, Hainan started offering flights between Beijing and Chicago.

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.
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