Hopes are (sky) high that new flights connecting China’s biggest city and Manchester Airport will bring a boost to Cumbria’s economy.

Bosses at Manchester Airport revealed that three flights a week will take off from the end of March 2020 to create a direct connection with Shanghai, which is ranked as among the world’s top five financial centres.

They say the landmark deal holds significant economic opportunities for the North, and Cumbria in particular, by unlocking hundreds of millions of pounds-worth of trade, investment and tourism benefits.

The introduction of flights between Manchester Airport and China’s capital Beijing has already brought a boost to the county’s huge visitor economy.

Jennifer Cormack, sales and marketing director at Windermere Lake Cruises, said it saw the number of bookings by independent travellers and larger groups increase by a “massive” 286 per cent since those flights began in 2016, while hotels have reported an 85 per cent increase in Chinese bookings.

Mrs Cormack is one of the driving forces behind the English Lake District China Forum, which is dedicated to promoting the region’s tourism offer to the emerging Chinese market.

“We envisage that a direct flight from Shanghai to Manchester will only increase this growth further, not only to our attraction and region, but all Northern regions, who we are working closely with when attracting this market,” she said.

“Having two direct routes into Manchester from mainland China is a huge advantage to our region. It further promotes our dedication to the Chinese market and strengthens the message that Manchester is the gateway to the North.”

Cumbria Tourism’s managing director, Gill Haigh, was also positive about the prospects for the industry, which generates around £3 billion for the county’s coffers and attracts in the region of 47 million visitors each year.

“With our world-renowned brands and now two World Heritage Site statuses, the Lake District and wider county is becoming increasingly popular with international visitors,” she said.

“With quick and easy transfers and connections from Manchester Airport into the county, we look forward to welcoming new passengers via this new route.”

Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, is a strong supporter of building greater economic links with China, saying “it is crucial to increasing the contribution the North makes to the UK economy”.

Describing Manchester Airport as a “Heathrow for the North” by attracting investment and skilled jobs the region, he added: “It is a chance for all of the Northern Powerhouse’s 15 million people to create new opportunities for them and their families.”

The new flights will be operated by privately-owned Chinese carrier Juneyao Air using state-of-the-art Boeing 787-900 Dreamliner planes, which have business and economy cabins.

The services will operate initially via Helsinki, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, arriving at Manchester at 8.30am and departing for Shanghai at 10am.

It is Juneyao Air’s first UK service and will connect businesses with a huge potential market in Shanghai, which has grown from a small fishing village to a mega city with a population of 25m.

Shanghai is also home to the world’s busiest container port and has established a reputation as a hub for finance, innovation and transportation.