An Ambitious Programme of Development in China

Massive airport development plans in China are entirely justified given traffic growth, explains Joe Bates in the latest issue of Routes News magazine.

China needs to embrace the privatisation of some of the state owned enterprises responsible for operating and developing its airport infrastructure, according to a Brooks Market Intelligence’s report, The People’s Republic of China – Airports, Capital Investment Programmes 2014. It claims that such action could relieve the financial pressure on the state and allow China to maintain the economic momentum. There is certainly no disputing that the Chinese government has been concentrating strongly on airports, underpinned by a shift towards liberalising the aviation sector.

Indeed, the Twelfth Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) for aviation predicts that 81% of China’s counties and cities will be served by a civil airport by 2015. It also projects that more than 83% of the population – contributing 94% of China’s GDP – will live within 100 kilometres or 90 minutes driving time of an airport by the end of the year. At present, around 61% of the population, contributing 82% to GDP, has convenient access to an airport, most of those living in the eastern part of the country.

The big build

In July 2012, Li Jiaxing, administrator of the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC), announced that China would build 70 new airports in the 2011-2015 plan and expand and upgrade another 101. If successful, this would equip China with 230 commercial airports by the end of 2015.

And they could all be needed in the future as traffic is rising at such a pace across China that experts are predicting that the number of Chinese airports serving more than 30 million passengers per annum (mppa) will increase from the current three – Beijing Capital, Guangzhou Baiyun and Shanghai Pudong – to 13 by 2020.

In 2013, the number of airports handling more than 10mppa increased to 24, three more than in 2012. Between them they account for three-quarters of the total turnover of Chinese airports. The 2011-2015 plan specifically targets strengthening Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai’s airports to improve their international hub functions and enhancing their complementary airports in the Pearl River Delta, Yangtse River Delta and the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei triangle to promote a multi-airport system.

Other key targets, explains the report, include the establishment of an efficient ATC system; improving the management of airports; the “vigorous development” of passenger transportation; reducing flight delays; and speeding up the development of general aviation.

In monetary terms, CAAC has estimated the total cost of airport construction and expansion at a massive $73 billion, a substantial increase on the $30 billion spent during the previous five years. Says the report: “This is by far the largest and most ambitious airport investment programme anywhere in the world and has been drafted to meet increasing demand, which is predicted to result in annual average passenger traffic growth of 11.4% until 2020.”

Traffic data

In 2013, north China accounted for 16.9% of passenger traffic, northeast China for 6.3%, east China for 29.1%, central south China for 24.1%, southwest China for 15.6%, northwest China for 5.5% and the Xinjiang region for 2.5%. Cargo reached 12.585 million tonnes in 2013 (+4.9%). Domestic cargo amounted to 8.3 million tonnes (+5.7%), with international cargo traffic up 3.4% to 4.285 million tonnes. Regional distribution was 18% in north China, 3% in northeast China, 40.8% in east China, 24.5% in central south China, 9.6% in southwest China, 2.2% in northwest China, and 1.4% in the Xinjiang region.

There are now 50 airports handling more than 10,000 tonnes of cargo with Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou accounting for 51.8% of the total. Aircraft movements reached 7,315,000 in 2013, an increase of 10.8% over the previous year.


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