The first flight will take off from the 19bn yuan ($2.4bn) state-of-the-art Baiyun International Airport on Thursday, making China's third largest city a major player in Asia's aviation market.

  

Guangzhou, capital of the booming southern Chinese province of Guangdong, has been waiting for years to replace its existing airport, watching while rival cities such as Beijing and Shanghai received major upgrades.

  

The new arrival has not been greeted with undivided enthusiasm in Hong Kong, the former British colony little more than 100km away which has become Asia's second largest aviation hub since opening the ultra-modern Norman Foster-designed Chep Lap Kok airport in 1997.

 

Competition

 

"The two airports are overlapping in markets and both will engage in competition for passengers and cargo transport," Hong Kong Airport Authority Chief Executive David Pang was quoted as saying by the Hong Kong edition of the China Daily.

 

New airport to be used by
at least 19 airlines in the future

Work on Guangzhou's new 15 sq km airport has taken four years to complete, the paper reported.

 

Airlines from Guangzhou currently fly to 22 foreign cities, but this is set to expand to 40 within three years, airport officials said.

  

They are also confident the nine foreign airlines that currently fly in and out of the city will grow to an estimated 19 during the same period.   

 

The airport itself is designed by American firms Parsons Corp and URS Greiner Corp along with the Guangdong Provincial Architectural Design Institute.

  

It boasts China's largest hangar as well as its biggest cargo station, equipped to process one million tonnes of cargo a year, according to the paper.

 

Delays

 

Guangzhou's new airport will open after repeated delays caused by problems during "operational rehearsals", according to previous state press reports.

 

"The two airports
are overlapping in markets and both will engage in competition for passengers and
cargo transport"


David Pang,
Hong Kong Airport Authority chief executive

It was originally due to start operating on 28 June, but more than 200 problems surfaced during two dress rehearsals, forcing administrators to move back the first touchdowns until August.

  

China desperately needs to upgrade its civil aviation infrastructure as the country is rapidly emerging as a top tourist destination.

  

In the first six months of the year, 51.4 million foreigners visited China, an increase of 24% from a year earlier, according to the China National Tourism Administration.