China’s rapid growth continues – 100 new airports planned by 2020

In the middle of December a formal ceremony took place at Beijing’s soon to be completed iconic Terminal 3 to welcome Air China and Shanghai Airlines as members of the Star Alliance. This marks another development in the globalisation of China’s aviation industry. Its airports handled almost 400 million passengers in 2007 making it the world’s second busiest country for airport traffic after the United States. Growth was estimated to be around 16% with further growth of 14% forecast for 2008.

Image: Star Alliance
Aircraft from Air China and Shanghai Airlines pose in Star Alliance colours in front of Beijing’s almost completed, Foster & Partners designed Terminal 3.
Source: Star Alliance

China Southern leads airline expansion race

Logo: China SouthernChina’s top three airlines carried more than 120 million passengers last year, an increase of 13% on 2006. SkyTeam member China Southern, with almost 300 aircraft, grew by 16% to just under 57 million passengers.

CHT Airline Pax 05-07
Source: ATI

Logo China EasternChina Eastern and its potential suitor Air China both grew by between 10% and 12% with a combined fleet of almost 400 aircraft. These top three airlines transported around 70% of traffic of the ‘big-9′ Chinese airlines. The remaining six regional airlines handled nearly 50 million passengers in 2006 on a fleet of around 250 aircraft.

Due to restrictive pricing regulation the concept of low-cost airlines has yet to really take hold in China. Spring Airlines, a privately-owned airline, which operates a small fleet of A320s is probably the nearest thing to a Chinese LCC. It operates 124 weekly departures and has less than half a percent of the Chinese market.

Number of airports to reach nearly 250 in next 12 years

According to OAG data, scheduled services are operated from 145 airports in mainland China (not including Hong Kong and Macau) and according to the government approval was recently given to invest $62 billion in plans to build a further 97 airports and expand many existing facilities. By 2020 82% of the population will live within 100 kilometres of an airport.

In the meantime Beijing remains the country’s busiest airport with around 13% of the country’s scheduled capacity and 10% of all movements.

CHT top 15 airports
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 28 January 2008

Logo BeijingIn 2007 Beijing handled 53.5 million passengers, over 50% more than in 2004. Shanghai’s two airports at Pudong and Hongqaio also combined to handle over 50 million passengers in 2007. The top seven airports all processed over 10 million passengers in 2006.

International traffic surge expected this summer

Although international services currently only account for 10% of scheduled departures from Chinese airports (and 14% of capacity) the figure is likely to grow with the world interest in Beijing’s hosting of the summer Olympics in August. Analysis of current international services shows that Hong Kong, and destinations in South Korea and Japan generate around 60% of all international flights and seats.

CHT top 10 countries
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 28 January 2008
Image: British Prime Minister Gordon Brown
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown wonders whether “Win-Win” is the name of a panda he is about to be given.

Outside of Asia the leading country market is America with just under 4% of capacity. European country markets are topped by Germany (with 66 weekly departures) followed by France (40 weekly departures). The UK has only 27 weekly departures (all from London Heathrow) operating to Beijing and Shanghai and operated by British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Air China and China Eastern. This rather poor showing possibly helps explain why Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently visited China with a trade delegation (including Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson) to help drum up more business for the UK.

In the run-up to the Olympics the Chinese government has threatened airlines with tough penalties if they fail to meet new punctuality requirements. Chinese airlines will also be hoping that their much improved safety record can be maintained. There have been no fatal accidents involving commercial flights since November 2004, the longest such period in the country’s aviation history.

Logo Beijing Olympics


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