The airport is located in Guangzhou's Baiyun District and Huadu District and opened on August5, 2004 as a replacement for the 72-year-old, identically named old airport, which is now closed. Built at a cost of 19.8 billion yuan, the new airport, is 28 kilometres (17 mi) north of downtown Guangzhou and nearly five times larger than its predecessor. "Baiyun" (白云) means "white cloud" in Chinese and refers to the Baiyun Mountain (Baiyunshan), near the former airport even though the mountain is much closer to downtown Guangzhou than it is to the new airport. It is also referred to as "New Baiyun" to distinguish it from the previous airport, but this is not a part of the official name.
Once commissioned, the New Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport overcame most of the problems associated with the old and dilapidated airport including limited space, overcrowding and a lack of room for expansion. Former curfews and restrictions did not apply to the new airport so it could operate 24-hours a day, allowing China Southern Airlines to maximise intercontinental route utilisation with overnight flights. Other airlines also benefit from the removal of previous restrictions.
It includes a third runway, 3800 metres in length and 60 metres in width, located 400 metres to the east of the existing east runway. The centrepiece of the project is a 531,000-square-metre Terminal 2, equal to the size of the current terminal building. Other facilities include new indoor and outdoor car parks, a transportation centre with metro and inter-city train services. The total cost of the entire project will be around ¥18.854 billion. Construction of the third runway began in 2012 and was completed in 2014. The whole project including the new terminal is estimated to be finished in 2018, by which time the airport will be able to handle 80 million passengers and 2.5 million tonnes of cargo a year.
The terminal has A and B boarding areas. For A gates, there are A101-A133, A01-A04, A07-A10, and A13-A18. For B gates, there are B201-B235, B01-B04, B07-B10, and B13-B18. The A boarding area is on the east concourse, and the B boarding area is on the west concourse. Each of the boarding areas have three smaller concourses. The A area is divided into East 1-East 3. The B area is divided into West 1-West 3. East 1 is the only concourse that serves international flights. It has gates A101-A112 and A01-A04. East 2, East 3, and West 1-West 3 all serve domestic flights. East 2 has gates A113-A123 and A07-A11. East 3 has gates A124-A133 and A13-A18. West 1 has gates B201-B213 and B01-B04. West 2 has gates B214-B223 and B07-B10. West 3 has gates B224-B235 and B13-B18. East and West 3 were built in late 2010. Because of this, all of the gates at Baiyun Airport had to be renamed.
On July 13, 2005, FedEx Express signed a contract with the airport authority to relocate its Asia-Pacific hub from Subic Bay International Airport in the Philippines to Baiyun airport. The new Asia-Pacific hub covers an area of approximate 63 hectares (160 acres), with a total floor space of 82,000 square metres (880,000 sq ft). At the beginning of operation, the hub employed more than 800 people and operated 136 flights a week, providing delivery services among 20 major cities in Asia and linking these cities to more than 220 countries and territories in the world . The Guangzhou hub was, at the time of the opening, the largest FedEx hub outside the United States, but it was later surpassed by the expanded hub at Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport.
The hub has its own ramp control tower, a first for an international air express cargo company facility in China, which enables FedEx to control aircraft movements on the ground, aircraft parking plans as well as loading and unloading priorities. Included at the hub are a unique package and sorting system with 16 high-speed sorting lines, seven round-out conveyor belts and 90 primary and secondary document-sorting splits. With the new advanced system, up to 24,000 packages can be sorted an hour at the start of operations.
Construction began in 2006 and the hub was originally scheduled to open on December 26, 2008. On November 17, 2008, after several months of testing, FedEx announced that the opening date was delayed to the first half of 2009 when the hub was expected to be fully operational. FedEx claimed that the revised operation date "provided FedEx with the necessary time to fully test all systems and processes, as well as work closely with the Guangzhou authorities to ensure all necessary approvals are in place".
On December 17, 2008, the hub completed its first flight operations test. A FedEx MD-11 aircraft took off from Subic Bay International Airport in the Philippines and landed at Baiyun Airport at 5:50 am. The flight was handled by the new FedEx hub team, using the FedEx ramp control tower and the new 24,000 package per hour sort system. Following a successful operations' process, the flight departed on time for its final destination at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, France. This Asia-Europe flight route operated four times per week during test run. FedEx also announced that the hub would start operation on February 6, 2009.
FedEx closed its 13-year-old Asia-Pacific hub at Subic Bay of northern Philippines on February 6, 2009 with the last flight leaving for Taiwan just before dawn, while hub operations have moved to Baiyun Airport. The first flight that arrived at the new FedEx Asia-Pacific hub originated from Indianapolis International Airport. The MD-11 aircraft landed at 11:07 pm at Baiyun International Airport from Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris, marking the opening and full operations of the new Asia-Pacific hub.