First plane takes off from £40m Birmingham Airport runway extension

A China Southern Airlines flight to Beijing departed at around 13:10 BST

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The first plane has taken off from Birmingham Airport's new £40m extended runway.

A China Southern Airlines flight to Beijing departed at around 13:10 BST after a short delay.

Work to add an extra 400m to the existing runway began in November 2012 after years of planning.

Birmingham Airport bosses said they hoped the longer runway would allow it to provide flights to more long-haul destinations.

The first outbound flight landed at about 06:35 from Beijing before embarking on its return journey.

It marked the start of the only UK to China direct air route to operate from outside London.

The 248-seat A330-200 aircraft will fly between Beijing and Birmingham on three dates up to 6 August.

An airport spokesman said all the inbound flights to the city were sold out, with just a "handful of seats" left on the outbound routes.

It showed the "enormous demand" for the service, he said.

The airport said previously that the flights would help Chinese visitors access destinations including the Cotswolds and the Lake District.

The size of the Chinese tourism market has tripled over the past 10 years and is estimated to be worth about £15m to the West Midlands economy, according to John Bryson, Professor of Economic Geography at University of Birmingham.

He said Birmingham was the fourth most popular destination for Chinese visitors in England.

water squirting over aeroplane The aircraft was met by fire engines spraying an arch or water in welcome

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