China: An Introduction

Tom Allett provides an update on China’s development plans.
1) BEJ
After decades of stagnation under strict communist control, China’s new-style leaders began to unleash their nation’s economic power in the 1980s.  Three decades later, this sleeping giant has transformed itself into the world’s fastest growing economy.  Its commercial aviation industry is unrecognisable from that of 30 years ago, having been a major beneficiary of its government’s massive expansion plans. 
A rolling series of five-year airport development plans resulted in 33 new airports being built between 2005-2010, and work began on redeveloping a similar number.  The most recent of the five-year plans was published in 2010 and, according to Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) statistics contained within, the country is on target to have 230 airports handling 450 million passengers by 2015.  Beyond that it plans to have 270 airports by 2020 and 300 by 2030.  The entire development programme is estimated to cost about CNY1.5 trillion (U$240bn).
 
Developments
On average, a new airport is opened or a renovation project completed roughly every two months – which makes this a sector that is very hard to keep track of.
At the time of writing, the full nationwide passenger statistics for Chinese airports were not available for 2012, but looked set to be at least 10% up on the 620.5 million recorded in 2011.  Having opened in 2009, by the end of 2010, Beijing Capital Airport (BCA) had handled 73.9 million passengers, a rise of 13.1%, thereby beating London Heathrow’s figures and making the Chinese gateway the world’s second busiest passenger airport.  It accommodated 81.8 million passengers in 2012, up 4.2% on 2011, and remains second only to Atlanta, USA.
Beijing’s aircraft movements climbed to 557,000 in 2012, up by 4.5% year on year.  BCA now claims to have the world’s largest domestic and international route network with 94 airlines connecting 54 countries with 126 domestic and 110 international destinations.  To date, its record daily flight total stands at 1,758, while the highest daily passenger figure stands at 278,000.
On January 1, 2013, the Chinese Government introduced a free 72-hour visitor’s visa as part of its drive to boost tourism to the capital city.  This enables transit passengers from 45 selected countries to stop off and see the sights of Beijing providing they have a firm onward flight ticket from Beijing.  However, it doesn’t allow travellers to leave the city of Beijing.  Despite being only four years old, Beijing Capital Airport is already often cramped during peak periods.  There are numerous passenger feedback reports of long queues at immigration and security checks but, more surprisingly, even complaints about having to queue to use escalators, stairs and lifts.
 
New Beijing International Airport
With capacity already stretched at the Capital Airport, the Chinese authorities have given the go ahead for the New Beijing International Airport (NBIA), which is sometimes referred to as Beijing Daxing International Airport.  It will join, rather than replace, the Capital airport in serving Beijing.  While the existing airport is located to the east of Beijing, the new facility will be built south of the city, adjacent to the Nanyuan military air base (IATA: NAY).  Nanyuan is believed to be China’s oldest air field, with a history that stretches back to 1910.  Despite its primarily military use, it also has a comparatively minor commercial role as the main hub for China United Airlines.  Its terminal has a passenger capacity of approximately 1.2 million but this existing site will close when its giant successor is ready for business.
Scheduled for completion in 2018, the NBIA will have seven runways, including one for military aircraft movements, which will deliver an annual passenger capacity of some 120 million.  That will give it enough space to become the world’s busiest facility, although Istanbul’s recently-released plans for a potential 150 million passenger airport could eclipse it.
The CAAC says a high-speed rail link will enable passengers to reach the centre of Beijing from the NBIA in 30 minutes.
Various architects have been short-listed, among them the UK’s Foster+Partners who created the Beijing Capital Airport.
 
What Next?
Such country-wide development plans dwarf anything seen anywhere else in the world and, combined with China’s widespread industrial growth in many other industry sectors, points towards it becoming the world’s most powerful economy during our lifetime.  While the Middle East’s recent commercial aviation developments have been impressive to say the least, even that region’s aviation giants must be wondering what kind of challenge will come from China in the next two decades.