Canberra says resounding yes to more flights with China

SYDENY: Australia and China today agreed to increase the number of flights between the countries as they move towards talks on an "open skies" accord, Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said.

Under a new air services agreement, the number of seats available on flights will increase by 70 per cent by the end of the year, he said. "Today's announcement is a significant breakthrough, reinforcing the importance of our economic relationship with China, now Australia's largest trading partner," Albanese said in a statement. "It will allow the airlines of both sides to better compete within the rapidly growing Asia-Pacific region and it positions the Australian aviation industry at the forefront of the rapidly developing Chinese market."

Under the agreement, the national airlines of both countries can now offer up to 10,500 seats per week between Australia and China, 2,000 more than previously. They will be able to offer a further 4,000 seats from November.

"The latest agreement contains a shared commitment to commencing negotiations aimed at concluding an 'open skies' agreement, an outcome that would remove most -- if not all -- of the existing limitations on Australian and Chinese airlines operating between the two countries," Albanese said.

The Asia-Pacific has overtaken North America as the world's largest air travel market, with 647 million passengers taking commercial flights in 2009, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said this month.

Albanese said last year 1.4 million people travelled between Australia and China, with growth on routes averaging 16.9 per cent over the past five years.