Boston travelers would be able to fly directly to China by the end of this year under a deal worked out between China-based Hainan Airlines and Massport, city and state officials said yesterday.
It would be the first direct flight to the United States for Hainan, China's popular low-cost carrier, and the first direct flight to China from Boston. Under the arrangement, which still needs Federal Aviation Administration approval, cargo planes would begin making the trip next summer; passenger flights would take off by the end of the year.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino, part of the negotiating team that spent more than a year wooing Hainan, China's answer to JetBlue, plans to announce the deal today in his fourth inaugural speech.
The speech, described by aides as more of a broad view of the city's evolution during his 13 years in office, rather than a blueprint for the year ahead, will underscore Boston's role in the global economy.
''The theme is Boston's place in a changing world," Menino press secretary Seth Gitell said yesterday. ''The city is in a period of change, and the mayor embraces the change. For the first time, he will address Boston's place in the world and the global economy, and he will say how he plans to steer the city into the future."
Menino will deliver the speech this morning at Faneuil Hall, after making history by becoming the first Boston mayor to be sworn in five times. Menino, then City Council president, took his first oath of office in 1993 after Mayor Raymond L. Flynn resigned to become US ambassador to the Vatican. Today, Menino will be sworn in by US Court of Appeals Justice Sandra Lynch as two of his granddaughters, Giulia Fenton and Samantha Menino, hold his Bible. The mayor will then administer the oath to the Boston City Council, which will later hold elections for council president, and to the Boston School Committee.
Craig Coy, chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Port Authority, said yesterday that Boston competed with several other cities, including Seattle, Dallas, and Washington, D.C., for Hainan Airlines' business. The carrier, he said, was granted permission by the Chinese government to fly to only one US city.
Currently, Boston travelers must connect in New York or Chicago with a China-bound flight.
''This is a great thing," Coy said. ''It is going to connect Boston and New England directly, for the first time via air, to China. The economy's growth is centered not only in the United States, but in China. We want to connect the best New England has to offer with China."
Hainan, China's fourth-largest airline, is known for its low costs. Top executives of the airline visited Harvard Business School last year and were wooed by Governor Mitt Romney and Massport officials. In 2004, about 36,000 passengers flew from New England to Beijing, and 28,000 flew to Shanghai, though travelers had to go through New York or other cities.
The airline, whose name will soon change to Grand China Airline, will charge less than other carriers' standard business-class fare of $2,000 to $3,000, Coy said, and will throw in perks such as free cellphones or limo service from the airport. Flights will probably be ''almost daily" and may stop at Shanghai and Beijing. The company has ordered
''We sold them on the idea that Boston was the center of high tech, biomedical, great universities, and that we have a significant Asian population," said Coy. According to US Census figures, Asian-Americans make up 7.5 percent of the city's population.
''We were glad for the help and support of the mayor," Coy added. ''In China, mayors are like governors. It's a very important position. He was very enthusiastic, and his enthusiasm was infectious with the people we brought him in to meet."
In today's 15-minute speech, which replaces the much longer State of the City speeches given after nonelection years, Menino will touch on key issues facing the city and his administration, including crime and education. While not directly addressing the city's high homicide rate, aides said, he will reaffirm his belief that ''all of us have a responsibility to help keep Boston a safe city." Menino has urged parents to take more responsibility for their children and not blame the police and city government for failing to control them. He will announce plans to attend a summit conference on guns next month sponsored by the US Conference of Mayors.
As the city launches its search for a school superintendent, Menino is expected to praise the retiring schools chief, Thomas W. Payzant, and note improvements in the public schools made under his leadership.
Menino will also focus on change within the city, particularly demographic changes that have resulted in minorities representing a larger segment of the population. The 2000 Census found that for the first time, non-Hispanic whites are a minority in the city.
The Rev. Robert Hennessey, who will give the benediction, is pastor at the Most Holy Redeemer parish in East Boston, whose congregation, once largely Italian, is now made up of Colombians and Latinos, Gitell said. ''His presence will serve as another reminder of how the city has changed, in a positive way," said Gitell.
Menino supporters will celebrate his reelection and inauguration tonight at a $35-a-head gala at the Boston Public Library.