Qantas expands ties with China Eastern

Australia's flag carrier Qantas on Wednesday announced closer links with China Eastern Airlines to try to shore up traffic to Asia following the launch of its partnership with Emirates.

Qantas said it would boost codesharing between Melbourne and Shanghai, as well as on the Sydney-Nanjing-Beijing route and domestically between Shanghai and Nanjing, to increase its presence in key market China.

"We said we would expand Qantas' Asian network through our airline partnerships and we're now delivering on that promise," said Qantas International's China manager Andrew Hogg,

"We are building on our strong relationship with China Eastern to support growing corporate travel and tourism between Australia and China."

The codeshare deal means Qantas customers can now book on 17 services between China and mainland Australia per week and connect onwards in China to 11 domestic destinations, as well as to Singapore.

Hogg said it would take the Australian carrier's total flights to Asia per week to 130, starting on May 1.

Despite turning its back on a tie-up with an Asian airline in favour of an ambitious partnership launched Sunday with Emirates, Qantas still sees Asia as a key pillar of growth for its ailing international arm.

It said in February it was considering new direct services to destinations including Beijing, Seoul, Mumbai, Delhi and Tokyo-Haneda, while increasing the capacity and frequency of flights to Hong Kong and Singapore.

The Emirates deal saw Qantas end a decades-long alliance with British Airways. It has freed up several services previously tied to onward Europe travel for redeployment in Asia.

The International Air Transport Association estimates that there will be 800 million more aviation passengers in 2016 than there are now -- an increase of 28.5 percent -- with 200 million of them to come from China's growing middle class.

China is Australia's second-biggest market for overseas arrivals behind New Zealand and growing.

It is sixth among the top ten destinations for overseas-bound Australians, behind New Zealand, Indonesia, the United States, Thailand and Japan.