DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – The flight from Raleigh-Durham International Airport to China is a more than 7,000 mile trip – one that could eventually become nonstop.

The journey to landing nonstop flights between RDU and China began Tuesday with a “China Symposium” at Duke Gardens.

“It was really kind of what I consider to be an education opportunity for our community to begin the process,” said Michael Landguth, president and CEO of the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority.

The goal is to eventually attract nonstop service three times a week from RDU to China.

First – airport and commerce leaders hope to brand the Research Triangle in China and make sure North Carolina is on the itineraries of visitors from China.

As for the current demand between the Triangle and China, Landguth said, “Currently, we have about 67 passengers daily that go back and forth. That’s what our current market is. But, as we continue to look from a travel and tourism standpoint, that is a much larger number if we can actually grow that and drive visitors into our community and into the state of North Carolina.”

Tuesday’s China Symposium was held at Duke Gardens and hosted by RDU, the North Carolina Department of Commerce and Duke University. Duke has strong ties to China and even has a partnership in a university in the country – Duke Kunshan University.

“We have a lot of people going back and forth. There’s a lot of exchange going back and forth and we’re also very proud that really one of the most visible – if not the most visible – emblem of the state of North Carolina in China is Duke University,” said Michael Schoenfeld, vice president of public affairs and government relations for Duke University.

He said Duke and local companies could benefit from nonstop flights.

“Having a nonstop flight from RDU to China and back, obviously, would be a great accelerator for even more activity,” he said.

So far, there has not been an economic analysis conducted, Landguth said.

Tuesday’s symposium was the first step in a process that’s expected to take three to seven years.WHAT OTHERS ARE CLICKING ON: