A passenger holds up a commemorative boarding pass from China Eastern before boarding a Boeing 777-300ER for a flight to Shanhai at newly opened Tianfu Airport. Credit: China Eastern.

China Eastern Italian captain Diego and a flight attendant greeted passengers at the gate, handing out commemorative boarding passes along with “Junbao” panda toys to the youngsters.

It was a special day for the airline … it marked the maiden flight out of China’s newest facility — Chengdu Tianfu International Airport (TFU), which officially started operations on June 27, 2021, offering travellers a new gateway to the home of giant pandas.

According to a report at Aerotime online, the first phase of the mega airport construction cost about 70 billion yuan ($10.8 billion) and took five years to complete. The airport, which has three runways and two terminals, has the capacity to handle 60 million passengers annually. 

In future, China will expand Chengdu Tianfu airport to having a total of six runways and four terminals, with a capacity to serve approximately 90 million passengers each year.

Chengdu Tianfu International Airport is the largest civil aviation project in China after the construction of Beijing Daxing International Airport (PKX).

In addition to the famous pandas, Sichuan is famous for its spicy cuisine and beautiful scenery, making it one of China’s most-popular tourist destinations among both domestic and international tourists.

Italian Captain Diego hands out “Inaugural Flight Commemorative Boarding Passes” to passengers as China Eastern marks its first official flight operation at Tianfu Airport, taking 310 passengers to Shanghai on a Boeing 777-300ER. Credit: China Eastern.

TFU is expected to become Southwest China’s major international air hub, as it would mostly focus on international routes. As an international hub, Tianfu makes Chengdu the third Chinese city to have two international airports, after Beijing and Shanghai.

The airport was designed by a joint Chinese-French architectural consortium, according to state media.

Construction of Phase One included “cutting-edge” technologies including AI (such as robot airport staff), facial recognition and automated check-in. A new metro line links Tianfu to central Chengdu, with the high-speed train taking around 40 minutes.

China Eastern Airlines, a major Chinese air carrier, launched its maiden flight from China’s newest airport on June 27, 2021.

Tianfu International Airport in southwest China’s Sichuan Province has opened for operations. Located about 50 kms from downtown Chengdu, it is the city’s 2nd international airport. Credit: Handout.

A CEA Boeing 777-300ER sporting an inkjet panda “Jinbao” mascot, took off from TFU, taking 310 passengers to Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport.

China Eastern is reportedly planning to relocate all of Chengdu operations from the current Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport to Tianfu airport. 

In 2018, 55-year-old Diego successfully applied to be the captain of China Eastern Airlines and settled in China with his children, starting their “Chinese life.”

Almost 40 years ago, Diego came to China for the first time because of a flying mission. At that time, China had just reformed and opened up.

“Now, when I come to China again, I see huge development here, which is unimaginable in my country. In the past few decades, China has been moving forward. This is really amazing and admirable. “

China Eastern’s Italian captain Diego displays commemorative boarding passes and panda toys marking the first flight out of Tianfu Airport. Credit: China Eastern.

He added: “I look forward to flying back to Tianfu International Airport in person as soon as possible, and I am even more looking forward to being a tourist and taking my children to experience Sichuan’s spicy flavor and comfortable life. Sichuan, Ba Shi!”

The airport will also be a new international hub for the state-owned carrier Air China, which officially launched its first flight from TFU to PEK. 

China’s national airline invested 6.1 billion yuan (US$944 million) in the Tianfu base. The project was approved in 2016 and began construction in December 2018.

To date, it is the largest infrastructure project the airline has invested in. Air China’s new base at TFU airport includes an aircraft maintenance facility, air cargo hub and aviation food production center.

“The hall area of ​​the hangar is 14,290 square meters, which can meet the maintenance of two Airbus A330 wide-body aircraft, one A320 narrow-body aircraft or two A350 aircraft at the same site, and can provide aircraft and engine overhauls, passenger aircraft conversions, and aircraft retrofits,” read the airline’s statement. 

Additionally, the airline revealed that it has built a 1,494 bedroom hostel for its employees. It also constructed a lounge at TFU airport that would cover 2,950 square meters and provide luxury services to “high-end” customers. 

Chengdu Airlines, Spring Airlines and Lucky Air will also be launching services over the coming days.

Sources: Aerotime, SamChui.com, Breaking Latest News, MiNews, CNN