(CNN) — China’s long-awaited Chengdu Tianfu International Airport has officially begun operations, offering travelers a new gateway to the home of giant pandas. Its inaugural flight, operated by Sichuan Airlines, took off at 11:10 a.m. on Sunday, bound for Beijing.
Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, is now the third city to have two international airports, joining Shanghai and Beijing.
Constructed at the cost of about 70 billion Chinese yuan ($10.8 billion), phase one of the massive aviation hub can handle up to 60 million passengers per year, further opening up the country’s southwest region.
Three runways and two terminals, covering a total area of 710,000 square meters, are in operation. State media outlet Xinhua reported the airport will eventually house terminals covering 1.4 million square meters, capable of handling 120 million passengers annually.
Passengers prepare to board an airplane at Chengdu Tianfu International Airport on June 27.
Visual China Group/Getty Images
In addition to the famous pandas, Sichuan is renowned for its spicy cuisine and beautiful scenery, making it one of China’s most popular tourist destinations among both domestic and international tourists.
For now, however, the new airport will only be catering to the former. China remains closed to most international travelers.
“The new airport in Chengdu was needed to accommodate continued rapid growth,” said aviation analyst Brendan Sobie. “China’s domestic market has already fully recovered from the pandemic and will continue to proliferate. Given the size of the city and its central location in China, Chengdu is very well-positioned to benefit.”