Planning for New Beijing Airport Excludes Air China

 - August 11, 2016, 4:14 PM
Air China will remain the anchor tenant at Beijing Capital International Airport after the area's new airport in Daxing opens in 2019. (Photo: Flickr: Creative Commons (BY-SA) by byeangel)

Chinese national carrier Air China and its Star Alliance partners will continue operating from Beijing Capital International Airport (BCIA) when the city’s new airport in Daxing opens for operations in the first quarter of 2019, according to officials at the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). 

China Southern Airlines (CSN) and China Eastern Airlines (CEA), together with SkyTeam partners that currently operate from BCIA, will move to Beijing Daxing International Airport (BDIA), 31 miles south of the Chinese capital.

According to CAAC official Lu Shen, CSN and CEA must move to the new Daxing airport to ease congestion at BCIA, which already accommodates more passengers annually than its intended 72 million capacity limit. Moving the two airlines will also release a substanial number of slots.

In 2015 BCIA handled 93.1 million passengers, up 8.1 percent over the previous year.

Lu said organizers had to hatch plans for CSN and CEA early to give the two carriers time to build their respective facilities. CSN, China's second biggest airline in terms of fleet size, will serve as the anchor tenant at BDIA.

Officials said they will inform other carriers operating at BCIA, including China’s fourth biggest, Hainan Airlines, whether or not they have to move at a later stage.

As of now the authorities do not anticipate a delay in the opening of BDIA. Construction started late because it took seven years before the governments of Beijing, Tianjin and Heibei reached a consensus in July 2009 on the preferred site.

Before choosing Daxing, planners had identified two other possible new airport sites—Wuqing in Tianjin and Langfang in Hebei province. Originally expected to start in 2010, construction finally got under way in 2014. Plans now call for completion of the $13.1 billion facility late in the third quarter of 2018, followed by testing and trial runs of the the systems.

Under the government’s master plan, BDIA will hold enough capacity to handle 45 million passengers by 2020, 72 million in 2025 and 120 million in the longer term. Plans include a provision for nine runways.

Lu said the big Chinese carriers could face problems shifting operations, specifically involving the transportation of heavy ground equipment on Beijing's busy roads from BCIA to the new facility. Lu said that it could take three to four years for CSN and CEA to complete the move.

“This the airlines will have to iron out and plan their schedule carefully,” Lu noted.

Planners expect CSN and CEA and their subsidiary carriers to account for about 80 percent of BDIA’s domestic passenger traffic when it becomes fully operational.

Air China will emerge as the big winner on the most profitable domestic route, BCIA—Shanghai—as China Eastern’s current 50 percent market share likely would erode with the shift.