The new Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport has been a long time coming. After suffering delays, the state-of-the-art facility opened on August 2, giving the city a new sense of purpose as it strives to become the aviation hub of the Pearl River Delta region. Covering 1,456 hectares, it is about four times the size of the old airport. An annual passenger flow of 16 million and cargo throughput of 600,000 tonnes had been straining the old airport, which was built more than 70 years ago. The new airport, which eventually hopes to cater for 80 million passengers a year, can cope better with the increasing passenger and cargo flow anticipated by local business leaders. Guangzhou mayor Lin Shusen once told Japanese investors he expected that more and more businessmen would travel to the Pearl River Delta through Guangzhou rather than Hong Kong after the airport was built, reflecting his confidence in Guangzhou's future as an aviation hub. How accurate this turns out to be is a moot point, as Guangzhou still has more domestic flights (107 to 77 mainland cities) than international flights (22 to 20 overseas destinations). Hopes are high that the airport will expand its international network. A Guangdong Airport Management Company spokesman said earlier that the company hoped to boost international routes to 40 in three years. Northwest Airlines' decision to launch direct flights from Guangzhou to Detroit later this year will add to the number of international routes, but the city needs to think long and hard about its global expansion strategy. Airport and municipal officials established a working group last year to find ways of attracting international airlines to the airport. A new air pact between China and the United States signed last month that allows passenger and cargo flights between the two countries to expand nearly fourfold, from 54 to 249 a week, by 2010, offers some room for optimism. But Guangzhou will have to vie with other mainland gateway cities, notably Beijing and Shanghai, for air rights. In the run-up to its scheduled opening, Baiyun won just two more international routes: a new Air France service between Guangzhou and Paris launched in January, and a Lufthansa flight that first stops in Shanghai.To maintain the competitiveness of the new airport, management decided it was up to the market to set the aircraft landing and parking price, according to Guangdong Airport Management Company's chairman Zhang Chunlin. Other than using price to compete with other airports in the Guangdong catchment area, it is not clear how Baiyun will expand its business, but officials are pleased that the new airport is in the running to be 'China's largest, most advanced and modern international airport', as described by the Guangzhou Municipal Development and Planning Commission's director Wu Yimin. Baiyun was funded by the Civil Aviation Administration of China, Guangdong province and Guangzhou to the tune of almost 20 billion yuan. Mr Wu said the civil aviation administration intended Baiyun to become south China's undisputed domestic aviation hub, with its rivals in Shenzhen and Zhuhai relegated to the status of 'branch airports'. Its resident airline, China Southern Airlines, will spearhead the growth, promising to increase its international flights.