BEIJING – Air China has launched a direct route from Chengdu to Tokyo. China’s national carrier is the first airline to launch a direct route to Japan from Southwest China.On September 22, Air China launched a regular direct route from Chengdu to Tokyo. Flights are available on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Flight CA423/4 departs from Chengdu Shuangliu Airport at 8am and arrives at Tokyo Narita Airport at 1:40pm local time. The return flights depart from Tokyo Narita Airport at 2:50 and arrive at Chengdu Shuangliu Airport at 7:20pm local time. Air China said the new route saves passengers at least two hours and 20 minutes in flying time.Previous to this, Air China launched three routes from Chengdu to Japan, including the Chengdu-Beijing-Tokyo and Chengdu-Shanghai-Nagoya routes with flights available daily, and the Chengdu-Dalian-Osaka route with three flights available every week. After the launch of the Chengdu-Tokyo direct route, there will be nine Air China flights every week from Chengdu to Tokyo.Japan relaxed its visa requirements for Chinese tourists in July, and the number of Chinese tourists to Japan continues to increase. In 2009, Sichuan received 166,910 Japanese tourists; the number during the period from January to May 2010 was 47,601, an increase of 33.83 percent over the same period last year. The launch of this direct route will help improve the Japanese tourism market, the development of Sichuan's tourism industry, and even the economic and cultural exchange of the entire south western region.