Melbourne Airport is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with major Chinese airlines bounding back into Victorian skies.

China Eastern Airlines today became the first of the country’s “big three” carriers to resume regular flights to Melbourne, with a Boeing 787 operated by its fully owned subsidiary Shanghai Airlines touching down from Shanghai this morning.

Xiamen Airlines, which has flown the only continuous service into Melbourne from mainland China through the pandemic, has increased its frequency from once a week to three times a week.

The country’s largest airline, China Southern Airlines, is due to resume service from Guangzhou tomorrow and by the end of March will have ten flights a week from Melbourne.

Other Chinese carriers are also returning, with Sichuan Airlines recommencing flights from Chengdu, Air China flying three times a week from Beijing and Beijing Capital Airlines restarting service from Qingdao.

From a peak of around 70 weekly flights from mainland China before the pandemic, in recent months Melbourne Airport has been served by just one flight a week.

Melbourne Airport Chief of Aviation Jim Parashos said ground handling companies are now recruiting for hundreds more local staff to help service the returned capacity.

“It’s so exciting to see China’s major carriers returning to Melbourne and the growth in the airport workforce that comes with that,” he said.

“These services will help bring hundreds of mainland Chinese tourists, business leaders and students into Victoria every day, so the employment and economic benefits go much further than Melbourne Airport.

“To have so many carriers return so quickly shows the confidence China’s airlines have in Victoria and the importance they place on Melbourne in particular.

“By March we’re hopeful of being at almost 50% of pre-pandemic capacity from mainland China, which while very welcome, also underscores how much further we have to go.”

Passengers arriving directly into Australia from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau are currently required to present proof of a negative Covid-19 test before boarding their flight.