China links could aid regional airport bid for Swansea
A regional airport linking south west Wales to hubs such as London, Manchester and short-haul routes into Europe, could be brought to life with the help of links to China.
Swansea and Pembrey have been earmarked as potential locations with the aim of cutting travel times to key cities.
Both areas have airports but neither operate scheduled flights.
But a leading transport expert cast doubts over Swansea's suitability as a regional airport.
Swansea council has close links with the Chinese city of Wuhan with possible flights to China a longer-term plan.
"Cardiff Airport is still our national airport but we need regional airports to support that," said Swansea council leader Rob Stewart.
"Swansea, Pembrey and others have the potential to service that. We want to be able to service the business people to London and the Northern Powerhouse.
"With the links we have with China and Cardiff Airport with the Middle East [Qatar Airways], I think there's potential for investment into a regional airport.
"Air links were one of the things discussed during one of the recent visits to China."
Mr Stewart said it would provide some comfort to the UK government's U-turn on electrifying the railway to Swansea.
But Stuart Cole, Professor of Transport at the University of South Wales, said Cardiff Airport's links with Qatar Airways would mean it would be very difficult for Swansea to develop as a regional airport.
"The truth is Cardiff Airport is a regional airport and it has very good access with the new service to Qatar and that will give connecting links via Doha to the Far East," he said.
"To become anything other than a feeder airport it requires a longer runway. In the long term perhaps it's a possibility but the facilities would have to be developed.
"It's a nice idea but it's too near Cardiff and west Wales doesn't have a big enough population to run a regional airport."
It is not the first attempt to use Swansea and Pembrey as regional airports.
They were both bases for Air Wales which launched in 2000 but the airline only lasted six years blaming "spiralling costs" and "aggressive competition" from larger low-cost airlines.
And two years ago, Swansea businessman Martin Morgan told a travel magazine he wanted launch regional flights from the city.
But even Cardiff Airport has struggled with some regional services.
Its daily flight to Anglesey has been beset with problems involving providers and most recently a daily service from Cardiff to London was scrapped because not enough passengers were using it.
However, Mr Stewart believes there is scope to make a success of a regional airport, citing Ireland and Scotland as examples.
"If the right deal, investment and proposal can be agreed then there is real potential for expansion of regional airports and we will be considering this as part of the city region transport strategy," he added.
"The majority of people want the city to have a regional airport."