ROUTES: Chengdu airport looks to international growth

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Chengdu Shuangliu International airport is banking on international traffic growth in the coming years, as it looks forward to its first route to the USA in 2014.

United Airlines will launch three-times weekly flights between the airport in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan and San Francisco from June 2014 using Boeing 787-8 aircraft. The new route follows new international connections added this year, such as Qatar Airways' flights to Doha, British Airways' services to London Heathrow and Air China's flights to Frankfurt. Etihad Airways also operates flights to Abu Dhabi.

While international traffic now makes up only a 7% share of the airport's total traffic, airport general manager Sun Shaoqiang is optimistic about future growth. "International traffic is growing at about 35% annually," he says. The international traffic growth will help offset weaker domestic traffic growth, due to the slowdown in the Chinese economy and the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake in April. Domestic traffic usually grows at a rate of 12% to 13% but is expected to increase at only 5% this year.

Chengdu Shuangliu airport handled 31.6 million passengers in 2012, which is still substantially below its 50 million passengers capacity. But due to space constraints around the airport, plans are already in place to build the city's second airport, which will also be operated by Sichuan Province Airport Group. Sun says the airport is still in the planning stage, but authorities expect to complete construction by 2020.

The second airport is expected to be able to handle more passengers than Chengdu Shuangliu, which has two runways and two terminals. However, the second airport will be located 60km from Chengdu's city centre, while Chengdu Shuangliu is only 16km away.