China Presses Ahead with Airport Infrastructure Boom

 - August 14, 2020, 12:35 PM
Comac's ARJ21-700 prototype 103 conducts flight tests at Daocheng Yading Airport in the Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan province, China. Along with developing new aircraft, China's ambitions in the aviation field have resulted in multiple airport projects. (Photo: Comac)

As airports across the globe continue to face unprecedented revenue pressure following a near collapse in air connectivity, China continues to buck the trend with a surge of new airport development projects across the mainland.

The country completed and put into service 12 new airports since work on them resumed in March, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said in a press briefing on Thursday. Officials expect a 13th airport—Ankang Fuqiang Aiport in Shaanxi province—to open in October, while construction of Wulong Xiannushan Airport in southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality nears completion. Meanwhile, the enlarged Zhangjiakou Ningyuan Airport reopened on August 3. Considered one of the key supporting airports for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, the airport boasts a new terminal, apron, and an extended runway, and can now accommodate up to 1 million passengers a year, from 600,000 previously.

In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, China’s airport construction binge might seem overly ambitious; however, expanding and modernizing critical infrastructure at breakneck speeds serves a larger purpose – namely, the development of local economies, particularly in low-income areas. Since late March, work on more than 30 major airport projects has resumed, including at China’s fourth-largest international hub, Chengdu Tianfu International Airport, which developers expect to finish next year. According to the CAAC, “continuing to expand air transportation services in poverty-stricken areas” remains a key ambition as China enters the homestretch of its 13th five-year plan, which runs through 2020.

“The CAAC will continue to deepen the implementation of various tasks for poverty alleviation in 2020 to ensure the completion and commissioning of new airports such as Wulong and the start of construction of new airports such as Shuozhou as the focus of poverty alleviation work within the industry,” said Bao Yi, deputy director of the CAAC’s development planning department.

While China banks on its domestic travel to spur economic growth, the country has also cautiously introduced regular international services to 50 countries. By August 12, 19 Chinese carriers and 74 foreign operators were carrying out 210 domestic round trips along 187 international routes on a weekly basis.

However, the CAAC has moved to temporarily suspend Shanghai Etihad Airways flights from Abu Dhabi to Shanghai, China Eastern Airlines flights from Manila to Shanghai, and Sri Lanka Airlines flights from Colombo to Shanghai for a period of four weeks starting August 17 after passengers tested positive for Covid-19.