Its inaugural flight, operated by Sichuan Airlines, took off Sunday at 11:10 am, bound for Beijing.
Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, is now the third city in the country to have two international airports, joining Shanghai and Beijing.
Built at a cost of around 70 billion Chinese yuan ($ 10.8 billion), the first phase of the huge aviation hub has the capacity to handle up to 60 million passengers per year, opening more the southwest region of the country.
Three runways and two terminals, covering a total area of 710,000 square meters, are in service. State media Xinhua reported that the airport will eventually house terminals covering 1.4 million square meters, capable of handling 120 million passengers per year.
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In addition to the famous pandas, Sichuan is famous for its spicy food and beautiful scenery, making it one of China’s most popular tourist destinations among domestic and international tourists.
For now, however, the new airport will only deal with the old one. China remains closed to most international travelers.
“The new Chengdu airport was necessary to accommodate rapid and continued growth,” said aviation analyst Brendan Sobie. “The Chinese domestic market has already fully recovered from the pandemic and will continue to grow rapidly. Considering the size of the city and its central location in China, Chengdu is in a very good position to benefit from it.
According to the latest figures from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), China’s domestic traffic increased 6.8% in April 2021 compared to April 2019. Baiyun International Airport in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou dethroned Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport to become the world’s leading airport. busiest airport in 2020.
Before the pandemic, the former Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport was the country’s fourth largest in passenger volume. In 2020, “it was in fact the second in importance because it was less affected by the pandemic than other major airports due to its heavy dependence on the domestic market,” adds Sobie.
China’s airport ambitions
The new Chengdu Tianfu International Airport was designed by a consortium made up of the China Southwest Architectural Design and Research Institute, China Airport Construction Group Corporation and the French architectural firm ADP Ingenierie.
The first phase lasted five years and included an array of cutting-edge technologies, including facial recognition software, automatic check-in kiosks, intelligent security systems, automatic boarding gates and AI robot concierges.
A metro line connects the airport to the city center. Reaching speeds of up to 140 kilometers per hour, the train ride takes 37 to 44 minutes. A metro line connecting the new facility to Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport is expected to be completed in 2023.
Chengdu Tianfu International Airport is just one of many airports that China plans to open in the coming years.
The country aims to have 400 airports in service by 2035, a huge jump from the current 241, according to the transportation network planning plan released by the government in early 2021.
The most notable facility to open in China in recent years is the massive Daxing International Airport in Beijing, which began operations in 2019. Designed by the late architect Zaha Hadid and her Chinese partners, it has a terminal the size of 97 football fields.
Before it opened, the city was in desperate need of a second global gateway. Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) was the world’s second largest aviation hub and was reaching full capacity, making it nearly impossible for airlines to add flights at desirable times.
CNN’s Maggie Hiufu Wong and Shawn Deng contributed to this report.