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 Eastern, China 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.
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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