Okay Airways looks set to become the first in a spate of private airlines to take to China's skies later this year. The airline plans to begin cargo and charter passenger flights with a fleet of six Boeing 737s from a base at Tianjin's Binhai International Airport.
With a launch capital of US$36.5m the company plans to operate leased aircraft.
Two other private airlines – United Eagle Airlines, based in Sichuan province, and Air Spring, based at Shanghai's Hongqiao Airport – are awaiting final approval and are expected to begin services early in 2005, according to Xinhua.
The entry of these new private carriers comes as Chinese aviation officials promise to steadily open China's aviation market to more private and foreign investors.
Gao Hongfeng, vice-minister of the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC), declined to give a timetable for the liberalization moves, but said China's air transport market had "unmatched development potential."
In the first three quarters of 2004, domestic passenger traffic hit a record of more than 90m, up 50.2% on the same period in 2003, when air traffic was hit by the outbreak of SARS.
For their part, authorities in Shanghai announced plans to transform the city's two airports at Pudong and Hongqiao into a major passenger and cargo air transport hub for Asia and the Pacific. By expanding and improving infrastructure at the two airports, passenger air traffic through the city is expected to triple by 2015, to more than 100m per year.
Cargo throughput is also expected to grow, from a capacity of around 2.5m tons at present, to more than 7m tons by 2015.