Air France next year will become the first European carrier to fly direct to Guangzhou, with a five-times weekly service from its hub at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport. The carrier, which gained the rights in January, plans to use a 295-seat Airbus A340-300 aircraft for the service. 'The frequency of the service is quite high. It may take some time for the market to absorb the capacity,' Nomura Securities aviation analyst Pierre Lau said. An Air France executive dismissed suggestions the service's main intent was to capitalise on south China's burgeoning trade possibilities. 'The company is launching the services because there is a high demand from the passenger side,' the executive said. Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport is the third-busiest airport in China after Shanghai Pudong and Beijing Capital airport. With Guangzhou's new 19.6 billion yuan (HK$18.37 billion) airport on the verge of completion, it is aggressively trying to position itself as the southern gateway to China. The Air France executive said the connection to Guangzhou would not affect its services to Hong Kong, even though, geographically, Chek Lap Kok will directly compete with the new south China airport. 'The Guangzhou services are additional. Our flights to Hong Kong will not be affected at all,' he said. About 80 per cent of air cargo from Hong Kong to Europe originates in south China and the carrier last year moved about 20,000 tonnes of freight to the continent. The new service to Guangzhou, while apparently targeting business traffic between the two points, will provide a maximum annual cargo capacity of 11,400 tonnes a year, according to Airbus sources. Mr Lau said the new service would divert some passengers from Hong Kong to Guangzhou. 'Hong Kong has always been a stopover point for mainland travellers to France. The new service will create some competition to Hong Kong, but it won't be drastic,' he said. Kim Eng Securities analyst Tony Lau said there would be room for capacity expansion on the cargo front. He expected other international airlines to announce similar plans later in the year and saw the granting of traffic rights to Air France as the initial step towards a more liberal aviation policy. 'It seems to be the first step towards 'open skies' and more airlines will benefit from it. The mainland authorities always use Guangzhou as a testing point. If everything runs smoothly, they may award more traffic rights to other cities such as Shanghai,' he said.