Qatar Airways is to start flying from Cardiff airport to Doha from 2018.

The airline confirmed the plans for a daily service – the first direct long-haul flight from Wales to a major hub in the Middle East offering connections to more than 150 onward destinations.

The move represents a major coup for the Welsh government-owned airport which handled 1.3 million passengers last year.

Cardiff airport already operates flights to 50 destinations, adding Rome last month, with plans to add Madrid and a new service to Guernsey.

Qatar Airways provides connections to countries including Australia, Thailand and China via its hub at Hamad International airport.

A start date, aircraft type to be deployed and fares from Cardiff have yet to be disclosed. Qatar Airways currently flies from Heathrow, Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh starts serving Dublin on June 12.

Cardiff airport CEO Debra Barber said: “I am immensely proud that Qatar Airways has chosen Cardiff airport to operate its new service to Doha.

“It is fantastic that we will now be able to offer our customers more choice of travel with a world-class airline providing easy connections to destinations across the world.

“More than one million passengers per year from our region are travelling to destinations that are on the Qatar Airways network. Over 90% of these passengers are currently travelling via London and this new service will give them the opportunity to fly more conveniently from Cardiff, their local airport.

“It has been a long journey to get to this stage, with discussions spanning a number of years.

“Over the coming months we will work with the team at Qatar Airways to confirm the details of the service and look forward to the flights being on sale in the near future.”

Airport chairman Roger Lewis described the addition of Qatar Airways flights as “game changing”.

“I am confident that the team at Cardiff airport will deliver a world-class service with Qatar Airways for all of our passengers both visiting Wales and travelling across the world.

“I look forward to returning to Doha in the near future to further develop this special bi-lateral relationship between Wales, the UK and Qatar.”