A revised aviation pact between Macau and the Mainland could pave the way for the territory to become a launch pad for budget air carriers into the Chinese market.
Under the terms of the new deal, Macau's quota for flights to Mainland cities increased by 90% from 244 to 539 per week, with the number of cities open to Macau-based carriers going up from 31 to 37.
Cargo flights were also doubled to more than 50 a week.
More important, the pact also allows for a second carrier other than Air Macau to fly routes between the territory and the Mainland. That looked set to clear the way for plans by Australian budget carrier Virgin Blue to launch a low-cost carrier based in the territory aimed at the Mainland market.
The combination of increased flights and budget fares is expected to prove a tantalizing draw to Mainlanders heading for Macau's fast-expanding gaming and leisure market.
The new pact however does not open the most potentially lucrative budget routes – those to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou – until mid-2006.
Macau's international airport, partly owned by the territory's government and partly by gaming tycoon Stanley Ho, currently has stands for 19 aircraft and a capacity to handle 6m passengers a year. Virgin Blue is expected to make an announcement on the new carrier in the near future.