AT 4:35 p.m. Thursday, an A330-300 wide-body aircraft CZ8371 packed with 260 passengers, left Shenzhen International Airport, marking the first-ever direct flight between Shenzhen and Moscow.
In just under 10 hours, the flight will arrive in Moscow at 9:45 p.m. local time. The return flight CZ8372 will leave Moscow at 11:30 p.m. and arrive at Shenzhen at 1:30 p.m. the following day.
It is also the first direct air route from Shenzhen to Russia and third direct air route from Shenzhen to Europe. The other two are to Frankfurt in Germany and Milan in Italy.
The flight will operate every Monday and Thursday from Shenzhen. During the promotion period, covering the approaching National Day holiday, the ticket fare will stand at 1,750 yuan (taxation not included) for a round trip.
At a launch ceremony Thursday, Liu Guojun, general manager of China Southern Airlines Shenzhen Co., said the opening of the flight is a major step for the company towards implementing the Belt and Road Initiative and enhancing connectivity between China and Russia, an important BRICS country.
The flight was opened in time to promote exchanges between the two cities, especially after the launch of the Shenzhen MSU-BIT University, he said.
Mashkina Olga, acting head of the Academic Department of Shenzhen MSU-BIT University, said the flight will play a significant role in boosting bilateral culture, people-to-people and education exchanges between Shenzhen and Moscow.
The Shenzhen MSU-BIT University, the first Sino-Russian university, was inaugurated in Longgang District two weeks ago with the first batch of 113 Chinese students and teachers from Russia.
The university will accommodate up to 5,000 students in the coming years with international students making up 30 percent of the student body.
"With the expansion of the university, more people will travel between the two cities and the route will become popular," said Olga, who added the university would like to offer Russian language training to airline employees.
Gregor Kolyshkin, attaché of the Consulate General of the Russian Federation in Guangzhou, said at the ceremony that the flight will promote cooperation and exchanges between enterprises of the two cities.
"Shenzhen is a key high-tech city in China and the field is an important part of the Sino-Russian cooperation. The flight will help increase popularity of Shenzhen in many folds among Russian people, such as tourism, trades and culture exchanges," said Kolyshkin.
Before Thursday, Shenzhen residents had to go to Hong Kong or Guangzhou to take a flight to Russian cities, such as Moscow and St. Petersburg, a popular destination for Chinese tourists.
In 2016 a total of 1.3 million Chinese traveled in Russia, an increase of about 30 percent over the previous year, according to Russian officials.
"At present Hainan is the most popular destination for Russians traveling in South China," Kolyshkin said. "But I believe after the flight opens, more Russians will come to Shenzhen for doing business and sightseeing and the city's popularity will be greatly improved,"
The China Southern Airlines now operates 16 international routes in Shenzhen and is the largest air service provider in the Shenzhen market.
The company initiated its internationalization drive in May 2016 by operating Shenzhen's first intercontinental route to Sydney. In September, the Xiamen Airlines, a subsidiary of the company, operated flights from Xiamen to Seattle via Shenzhen.
In 2107, the company opened flights to Jakarta, Melbourne and Phnom Penh.
Statistics released by the Shenzhen airport showed the airport handled 2.36 million international travelers between January and August this year, an increase of 24 percent over the same period last year, thanks to the opening of more international routes.
At present, the airport is operating a total of 34 international routes. This number will increase to 40 before the end of the year, according to Chen Jinzu, a general manager at Shenzhen Airport Group Corp.