Shanghai has received approval from the State Council to build what will be the country's biggest airport. Shanghai officials said the four-runway Shanghai Pudong International Airport would be built in four phases and, when completed, could handle 70 million passengers and five million tonnes of cargo a year. The first phase, costing US$1.5 billion, involves construction of a 4,000-metre runway, a 150,000 square metre terminal building and 50,000 square metres of commercial space. 'We hope to begin using the airport by the end of 1999, when the basic structure of phase one is essentially ready,' said Wu Xiangming, the city's deputy secretary-general overseeing the airport's construction. He said there was no deadline for completing the entire project. 'When the other phases will be built will be based on how fast the passenger and cargo market grows,' he said. By 2000, Shanghai is expected to handle more than 20 million passengers a year, up from 13 million this year. The new airport symbolises Shanghai's bid to become an international centre, with Pudong - former farmland being transformed into a financial hub - the centrepiece of its efforts. The city is being served by Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport, which, after expansion, could handle 9.5 million passengers a year. 'It has become a matter of urgency for us to build a new airport to handle rapidly growing traffic and to boost Shanghai's status as an economic and financial hub,' Mr Wu said. He said the more optimistic of the city's experts believed Shanghai would see rapid traffic growth in the years ahead and should embark on the second phase by 2000. Negotiations are under way with Japan and France for concessionary government loans to cover a third of the cost of phase one. The remainder will be funded equally by the Shanghai Government and the State Development Bank. Mr Wu declined to say how much the entire project would cost, but said: 'Based on the plans, the airport will probably be the largest in the country in terms of capacity.' Shanghai is the country's third-busiest airport in passenger traffic, after Beijing and Guangzhou, and the busiest in terms of cargo volume.