Virgin Australia unveils Australia-Hong Kong flights, opening China route

SYDNEY, March 21 (Reuters) - Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd

, the country's No. 2 airline, said it would run five

return flights a week between the city of Melbourne and Hong

Kong, making good on previously disclosed plans to tap the

lucrative Chinese travel market.

The airline, 10 percent-owned by British entrepreneur

Richard Branson, identified China as a target growth market in

mid-2016 when it took on China's HNA Innovation Ventures

and China's Nanshan Capital Holdings as major

shareholders.

The announcement of the new flights, the first for Virgin to

greater China, came a day after Virgin said it obtained

Australian preliminary regulatory clearance to operate those

routes.

"Virgin Australia's entry into Hong Kong and greater China

is a key pillar of our international strategy, allowing us to

tap into Australia's fastest growing and most valuable inbound

travel market," Virgin Chief Executive Officer John Borghetti

said in a statement.

A proposed alliance between Virgin Australia, HNA and Hong

Kong Airlines will let Virgin customers connect via Hong Kong to

13 destinations in mainland China, while travellers on Hainan

Airlines, Hong Kong Airlines, Capital Airlines and Tianjin

Airlines can join Virgin Australia's Australasian network,

Virgin Australia said.

Virgin Australia has said it plans in the longer term to

sell flights between Australia and mainland China.

The airline will compete with Australian No. 1 airline

Qantas Airways Ltd and Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific

Airways on the Melbourne-Hong Kong route.

(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Peter Cooney)