Last plane takes off from old Baiyun airport

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 August, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 August, 2004, 12:00am

Hundreds make farewell visit as facility closes after 76 years

When pilots from the fledging Chinese Air Force first landed on a stretch of barren land in Guangzhou more than 70 years ago, no one guessed the stark airstrip would someday become a famous airport.

But for much of the 20th century, Baiyun airport was one of the mainland's most important gateways to the outside world.

Last night that era came to an end as hundreds of people flocked to the site to get a last glimpse of the airport before it closed for good.

'We feel very sad. It is so close to the city centre and has been here for so long, it has become part of our collective memory,' said Sarah Li, who took her two-year-old son to see the last flight take off.

Baiyun airport, built in 1928 as an air force base, closed at midnight to make way for the new airport of the same name in the suburban Huadu district.

Built in the centre of Guangzhou, Baiyun was the mainland's biggest airport until 1990 and was still the third largest when it closed. The airport was unusually quiet last night, as most staff had moved to the new one. Many of those who remained reminisced about the old airport during its last moments.

'It has become so familiar to me. I will miss it after spending so many years here. Business has been good. I hope we can have as many customers as before when we move to the new site,' said Zheng Yuanming , who runs a bookshop at the airport.

Last night the last flight left shortly after 11pm - 30 minutes late - for another Guangdong city, Zhanjiang . One passenger, engineer Ren Wulei received a special gift from Guangzhou vice-mayor Lin Yuanhe . 'I didn't know I would be the last passenger to use the Baiyun airport,' said Mr Ren, 'Now I feel very excited.'

The airport saw 520 flights and 56,000 passengers on its last day, China Southern Airline ground service director Zhang Zheen said.

Not everyone was misty-eyed about the airport's closure. Zhou Yunkai , who has lived nearby for 20 years, said he would finally be able to sleep in peace.

'The airport is too close to residential areas. It's very noisy,' said Mr Zhou. 'It's necessary to move it to another place. The traffic congestion has become unbearable and it's quite dangerous [to us],' he said.