Beijing New Airports

  China is now renowned for building hundreds of airports throughout the country. Having 90% of the Chinese population living less than 100 km from an airport by 2020 is one of the many ambitious targets found in the government's five-year plan. We covered these in our first article China Airports Build. Also mentioned are China's three megalopolis of Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Beijing which account for one third of the country's air passenger traffic. These cities already have well-developed air transport systems serving roughly the three cities' 60 million inhabitants. Yet, Beijing’s Capital Airport (BCIA), the second busiest airport in the world, has exceeded its capacity while handling 83.7 million passengers in 2013.

Capital airport’s capacity was raised to 82 million passengers per year in 2008 with the opening of Terminal 3. It increased capacity by 50 million passengers after a 4-year extension. At this occasion, a new runway was built, as well as a shuttle train that makes the airport reachable from Beijing subway in 15 to 20 minutes.

The idea of a new airport for Beijing actually came up in early 2000, though an expansion of the current airport was preferred at the time. But aviation has been growing fast and 6 years later it is more than time to move forward.

2 Beijing International Airports to Meet Demand

Traffic at Beijing Capital is expected to reach 90 million passengers per year in 2015. And Beijing-based Air China will receive 113 airplanes during the next three years. All-in-all, Chinese airlines should operate 4200 aircrafts at the end of the decade, twice more than today. Back in 2011, the Civil Aviation Administration of China was already warning:

It is now impossible to add even one more flight to the tight daily schedule of the capital airport

Proposed in 2008 and approved in late 2012, Beijing Daxing airport work started this month and it should be four years before it opens. 14 years after the opening of Shanghai’s second airport in PuDong, Beijing will soon have its second international airport. Together, Shanghai airports handled 83 million passengers in 2013, approximately the same amount than Beijing Capital.

Beijing Daxing Airport: How Modern Is It?

Like Beijing Capital's airport express, a brand new 37km-rail link to the city will be built in order to move passengers from Beijing South Railway station (and then Beijing subway) to the airport. But Daxing airport could also feature quite unprecedented ideas in China. First, the airport will not only serve Beijing but also nearby’s Megalopolis of Tianjin or cities in Hebei. Meanwhile, Tianjin airport experienced a double-digit growth in 2013, then handling more than 10 million passengers. The provinces and cities are working together to coordinate the work, and the government is looking at building new highways or rail links in the area. That seems like a huge change in China’s policy - building new airports everywhere (again, see our China Airports Build: Too Many Too Fast?). This example brings the hope of having fewer airports but better integrated in the hole transport network. Beijing New International Airport will then incorporate a “Ground Transportation Center” to enhance air-ground public transport connectivity.

Secondly, with the creation of a low-cost terminal under consideration, Beijing’s new airport could be another significant step in favor of the development of low cost carriers in the country. The new airport will also have a dedicated runway for military use, and will replace Beijing Nanyuan, a semi-military base and hub of China United Airlines due to close once Daxing airport is completed, having its flights moved to the new airport

New Beijing Airports

Among the two major airports, traffic will be split by alliance. Air China will stay in Capital - remaining will be the base of Star Alliance, and Skyteam (thus including China EasternChina Southern and Xiamen airlines) and oneworld airlines will be moved to Daxing. Since 2013 Beijing allows a 72h visa-free transit that will help passengers needing to connect between the two airports.

Beijing Daxing is expected to handle 45 million passengers per year on its four runways when it opens. More unaligned carriers will move when the latter expands, the second traffic target being 72 million passengers in 2025. According to its designer NACO, Beijing Daxing could handle up to 130 million passengers with its eight plus one runways. Yet, the current Beijing Capital Airport will stay the biggest one for at least some years after the opening.

Looking Forward

The location selected will leave room for numerous expansions. 11 villages must be relocated to clear up to 3000 hectares of land. Undoubtedly such a large project will completely transform the region, and accelerate the development of the area. 500 000 jobs could be involved with Beijing's new airport.

Beijing is a major city where having 2 airports makes sense. The government understands the benefits of an integrated transport network, and selected a strategic area that has room for growth. Assuming an 8% yearly growth, Beijing Daxing would be fully used when it opens in 2018, having to cope with about 50 million passengers. Yet, the growth has been slowing down over the past years in several major Chinese airports, and is expected to be slightly slower, though liberalization measures could change the story.


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China Airports Build: Too Many Too Fast?

Editor's Note - This is a new series by Generation Y, we want to give them a voice too. The first post is written by Guillaume Dupont, a French aviation engineering student in his third year at ENAC (the French national school of aviation in Toulouse, France). He just wrapped up a semester at Beihang University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (BUAA) in Beijing, China. We hope you enjoy it. If you have a comment, we encourage you to leave one (or two) at the end of the article. You will need to register before you can leave a comment. 


As part of the Chinese government 5-year plan, China is building many airports. A plan that includes the construction of 82 new civil airports and the expansion of 101 existing Chinese airports, totaling more than 230 airports by the end of 2015 with an estimated 80% of China’s population living at less than 100 km of an airport.

Undeniable Need for Airports

As China’s population becomes wealthier and tourism quickly expands, China will certainly need more airports.  Moreover, due to its large territory, relying on air transport is a necessity; however, if we compare China to the U.S where there are 57 airports per million square meters, China has 19 only.  According to the Chinese Civil Aviation Authority, released figures show a strong continuous growth in 2013, reaching 11% to 354 million passengers.

That's all very nice, but this current situation must be contrasted. China's three airport hubs: Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou account for one third of the passenger traffic in China (209 million in 2012), and one half of the country's cargo.

Airport Delays, Losses and Subsidies

Poor organization of the Chinese airspace lead passenger flights to suffer long delays. And they are getting worse with the traffic growth.  Furthermore, Chinese airports are widely unprofitable, even though officials claim the contrary, that they turned a profit of $750 million in 2011.

Recently, it was announced that the Chinese Civil Aviation Authority will grant a subsidy of $180 million to 137 airports in 2014, each receiving between $650.000 and $2.7 million.  That is all nice, but why not improve the current situation first before building more new airports?

Unquenchable Appetite for Airports

Presently, there is a huge investment in high-speed trains which creates competition for aviation so I question the usefulness of new airports in cities already reachable easily by train. But for local administrations, building an airport creates confidence which in turn attracts international companies and high-added value industries and services.

Air Transport’s Network Expansion

When skeptics question the risk of overcapacity, officials raise the argument of a network effect: more flights will come from a larger network, and then more airports will naturally bring more flights. And a possible apparition of more low cost carriers in the country in the near future could completely change aviation’s face.

The least active airports in China are served by 3 to 5 airlines, and generally linked to China’s main airport hubs.  43 airports already have more than 2 million passengers per year -compared to 62 airports in the US- and 24 airports have more than 10 million passengers per year.

Large Spend, Large Projects

To conclude, the number of airport-related projects in China is huge, as the projects themselves can be artificial islands, mountains flattening etc. The investment of the aviation authority in 2013 is expected to be $24.2 billion.  As a result, the environmental damage will also be immense. Nonetheless, since only 193 airports could be counted in China at the end of last year, it seems that numerous projects will face delays. The demand increase will not.

References China’s Airport Building Boom Will China Build 82 Unneeded Airports by 2015 China Air Transport Business US China Economy Airports Center for Aviation World Civil Aviation Resource Net

Update 11 Oct 2017: Guillaume Dupont is no longer a student