British Airways on Tuesday officially launched a direct, non-stop flight between London’s Heathrow Airport and Durban’s King Shaka International Airport. The first flight landed at 5.30 am on Tuesday with more than 200 passengers on the 220 seater plane. More than 150 passengers had booked the flight returning to London.The route will operate three times a week on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays.The route has been hailed as a major boost for business and leisure travel for the province.Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs MEC Sihle Zikalala said the Durban-London route was expected to produce around 183 000 direct jobs for the people of the province. “We are inspired that this new development comes at the time when we are working hard to grow our tourism as we intend to clock anything between R65 billion and R98 billion over the next two years. As we would all acknowledge, direct flights between destinations have proven to increase the appetite for travel for both leisure and business. “We are confident that soon after the activation of this route, we will experience more demand for direct flights between the two cities which will then translate into increased trade volumes,” he said.Zikalala said the province had set a target of attracting 3,4 million international visitors by 2030. Acting chief executive officer of Tourism KZN, Phindile Makwakwa, said there were about 100 000 passengers who travel between Durban and the United Kingdom every year.“This new route will tap directly into this latent demand. British Airways has already indicated that inward-bound forward bookings are looking extremely good and that this has been welcomed by the local tourism and business sector, which is predicting a boom this holiday season,” she said. General manager at King Shaka International Airport, Terence Delomoney, said the route would not only grow passenger numbers but would enhance the international status of the airport as a hub for economic growth in the region.“We believe that this route has the potential to become a daily service and we will continue working with British Airways to provide any support needed to make this a reality,” he said.British Airways commercial manager for Europe, Paolo de Renzis, said since the announcement of the new route in May, there had been “a great deal of excitement about it”. “The travel trade, business interests, government and the public all appreciate the benefits of the move. That’s why we’re especially pleased to be offering our most modern and comfortable aircraft on the route,” he said.