Guangzhou is looking to seize a golden opportunity in the region’s aviation dogfight as Hong Kong is bogged down by prolonged social unrest that has affected air traffic and scared away visitors.

Guangzhou’s airport operator, together with its flagship carrier China Southern, Asia’s largest by fleet size, have quickly opened about 12 new overseas routes from Baiyun International Airport this year, according to Guangzhou papers.

The aim is to add about 30 new destinations to Guangzhou’s aviation network to make it more far-reaching by the end of 2021, when travelers can fly to 100 cities at home and abroad. It is the city’s plan to stem and even reverse the flow of passengers to Hong Kong, a preeminent aviation hub in Asia.

Guangzhou’s airport already boasts three runways, while Hong Kong is on the lookout for more marine sand suppliers for a complex and costly reclamation project for its own third runway that will not be up and running until 2024.

Guangzhou also inaugurated a cavernous, 17 billion yuan (US$2.7 billion), 658,700-square-meter terminal building last year, and the synergy of two terminals and three runways mean it will be able to handle 100 million passengers per year by 2025.

With two massive terminals of more than one million square meters of floor space, Guangzhou airport can handle 100 million passengers per year. Photos: Asia Times

Guangzhou’s hardware and geographical advantage – its airport is located north of the sprawling city and is less affected by airspace congestion down south close to Hong Kong and Shenzhen – all means room to open up more services. Guangzhou had 50 routes to Asian cities, six to Europe and five to North America in 2018.

New long-haul routes set to get off the ground in the near future include Boston, Chicago, Madrid, Brisbane, Auckland as well as cities in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Most of the routes will be operated by China Southern, part of the state-owned aviation giant’s plan to launch new services and add more departures to destinations to implement Beijing’s “belt and road” initiative.

These new routes can indeed cater to the need of the region’s increasing exchanges with these places, and Guangzhou has a sizable population of businessmen who hail from the Middle East and Africa.

The carrier is now offering big discounts on fares to some North American and European cities, and seats are being snapped up. It is also on a buying spree for more wide-body jets from Boeing and Airbus to help its fleet keep pace with the speed of expansion. China Southern is also the only Chinese carrier that flies the superjumbo A380.

A China Southern 747 cargo freighter. Photo: WeChat
Guangzhou airport’s passenger and cargo routes. Photo: Handout

Guangzhou was ranked by the International Air Transport Association as the 13th busiest across all airports in all countries last year, and Hong Kong came in eighth as measured by total passenger throughput.

Yet the latter’s months of anti-government protests since June, which saw the closure of its airport twice when thousands of flights were either grounded or diverted to Guangzhou and Shenzhen, mean a fighting chance for the latter two to poach more flyers.

Even before the outbreak of Hong Kong’s turmoil, Guangzhou handled 36 million passengers in the first half, up 4.1% year-on-year as business travelers flew more frequently and more new flyers took to the skies, compared with Hong Kong’s 37.8 million, up 2.5%.

Hong Kong’s protracted chaos has taken a toll on its airport, sending the number of passengers in August plummeting by more than 12% year-on-year, according to government figures.

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