A CHINESE carrier is in talks with Scotland's two busiest airports about establishing a route that would see travellers "piggy back" to Beijing via Manchester.
Bosses at Glasgow and Edinburgh airports are competing to lure China's Hainan Airlines north of the Border.
Both are desperate to secure a direct link between Scotland and the world's fastest growing economy, but the option to fly passengers to and from China via a pick-up stop in Manchester is seen as the next best thing.
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It is thought that a twice weekly flight could launch as early as next year, but Hainan has yet to commit to either Glasgow or Edinburgh.
A direct flight between Manchester and China had been expected to launch a four-weekly service in May this year after Chancellor George Osborne announced in September 2014 that the Department for Transport had authorised Hainan to run a Manchester-Beijing return service.
However, in March the aviation rumour mill went into overdrive as it emerged that the launch had been postponed while Hainan considered making alterations to the service, including frequency, but also now understood to be a potential tie-in with Scotland.
Talks have been ongoing for months between Hainan and both Glasgow and Edinburgh airports.
A spokesman for Glasgow Airport said: “Route development is an area in which we have enjoyed a great deal of success and we speak with airlines on a regular basis about adding further new services.
"Whilst it is the airline that will make the decision, we will continue to develop compelling propositions for airlines to ensure they choose Glasgow, which is Scotland’s economic powerhouse, over competing global markets.”
A spokesman for Edinburgh Airport said: “As an airport we are continually talking to airlines about enhancing direct long-haul links.
"Ultimately it’s the airline which makes the decision on whether or not to introduce a new route but we believe Edinburgh, as the nation’s capital with the strongest passenger catchment area, demographics and tourism appeal, is a highly attractive destination for global airline investment."
The Herald previously revealed that Marketing Edinburgh, in collaboration with Edinburgh Airport and Edinburgh City Council, is recruiting a Mandarin speaker to spearhead the China Air project - a 12-18-month initiative specifically geared to attracting direct flights to China from the capital.
The Scottish Government has long sought direct links with the Far Eastern powerhouse, and the effort was a major plank of then-First Minister Alex Salmond's visit to the country in 2011.
In a June 2013 letter, Humza Yousaf, Minister for Europe and International Development, told Christina McKelvie, convener of the Europe and External Relations Committee, that Transport Scotland officials had been in negotiation with Hainan Airlines about setting up a direct Scotland-China flight, but that "progress has not been as quick as either we or the Chinese Authorities would like".
He added that the chief executive of Transport Scotland had met the Civil Aviation Administration for China (CAAC) in Beijing in April 2013, at which point CAAC officials advised that the "best prospect" of establishing a direct route would be through the state-owned Chinese carriers - Air China, China Eastern and China Southern.
"We are now re-focusing our efforts on engaging with those airlines," wrote Mr Yousaf.
Two years on, it appears that hopes are pinned once again on Hainan - with Scotland's two biggest cities, and busiest airports, vying to outdo one another.
The Hainan Airlines Group is the largest privately-owned air transport company in China. Earlier this month it launched the first UK-China direct flight outside of London with a twice-weekly charter service between Birmingham and Beijing.
Hainan Airlines did not respond to a request for comment.