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Aviation: Burgeoning China

Amazing figures associated with size and growth of the Chinese aviation market have just arrived in The Aviation Oracle's in box. Most casual observers might assume - correctly as it happens - that the USA is the world's largest aviation market, but that's set to change with China (and possibly India) likely to overtake it during the coming years.

100m passenger club

Within the next two weeks, Beijing Capital (PEK) will almost certainly become only the second airport in the world to handle in excess of 100m+ passengers in a year. More than 92.6m travellers passed through its doors between January and the end of November 2018, representing a growth of 5.6% compared to the first 11 months of 2018. Just another 7.4m will to enable it to take its place alongside Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International in a rather exclusive club - and last year PEK did 8.1m pax in December. Beijing's solo ascent to the top flight isn't being challenged as no other facility comes anywhere close in terms of annual throughput; next in the rankings is Dubai International (DXB) which handled a 'mere' 88m customers in 2017. However, with its traffic slowly being transferred to Dubai World Central and its runways being fully utilised, it's unlikely DXB will ever reach the 100m milestone. Each of the other airports near the top of the league table – Tokyo Haneda, Los Angeles International, Chicago O’Hare and London Heathrow – have to find at least 15m more passengers if they are to breach the 100+ ppa (passengers per annum) barrier.

Enter Daxing

The 100m+ celebrations at Beijing Capital are likely to be short lived though, because in September next year the new six-runway, $12bn Daxing International Airport is expected to open 28 miles south of the Chinese capital. In its first phase it will be capable of handling more than 70m passengers, and it is expected to be used by 72m ppa by 2025. Further development including a second terminal will increase capacity to between 150m and 170m ppa. Daxing will be linked to Beijing by the city’s metro, as well as a 150mph rail link that will take visitors downtown to just 11 minutes.

Daxing International Airport will open in 2019 and will eventually be able to handle 150m passengers per annum. (Zaha Hadid Architects)

The new airport will have six runways and two large passenger terminals, as well as hangars and extensive freight facilities.

Two years ago it was agreed that members of the SkyTeam alliance, including China Southern Airlines, will move to Daxing when it opens. That will leave Capital handling Star Alliance, oneworld and non-aligned carriers. To date China Eastern Airlines, China United Airlines, Beijing Capital Airlines, Hebei Airlines, Spring Airlines, Okay Airways, Juneyao Airlines, XiamenAir, Donghai Airlines and China Postal Airlines have signed up to use the facilities at Daxing, along with American Airlines. Capital is bursting at the seams despite two terminals being added since the turn of the millennium and a third runway being completed in 2007. The respite offered by Daxing can't come quickly enough but the mass migration across the city will almost certainly reduce throughput at PEK again, taking it back below 100m in either 2019 or 2020.

More to come

Despite the rapid growth of the Chinese high-speed long-distance rail network, meteoric growth in Chinese air traffic has put strain on facilities across the massive country. Beijing Capital Airport’s throughput has increased by well over 20m since the start of the decade, while Shanghai Pudong’s figures have grown by 30m (approx 75%) and Guangzhou has rocketed by 20m (circa +50%).

It’s the same story all across China, and now the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has announced that it expects to have at least ten airports capable of handling 100m ppa by 2035.

Airport Passengers Runways

Beijing Capital 100m 4 runways

Beijing Daxing 150-170m 6 runways

Chengdu 90m 6 runways

Guangzhou 140m 5 runways

Hangzhou 95m 4 runways

Harbin 100m 4 runways

Kunming 130m 5 runways

Nanjing 100m 5 runways

Shanghai Pudong 120-130m 5 runways

Wuhan 120m 5 runways

Xi’an 120m 5 runways

Zhengzhou 130m 5 runways

The Aviation Oracle suspects there are people who have not even heard of some of these cities, let alone realised that their airports could be handling more than 100m ppa each in twenty years time. But not content with just building huge airports, CAAC says that it expects to double the total number of airports across the country to 450 during the same period.


At the end of 2017, Chinese carriers operated 3,261 airliners including 143 freighters. Last year Boeing delivered 202 more airliners to China, representing 26% of its total output. The US firm has just handed over its 2,000th jet to the country’s airlines and has opened an interior completion centre for 737 models Zhoushan near Shanghai, where interiors of new jets destined for the local market are fitted out. The US firm believes that China is the fastest growing aviation market in the world, with annual rises in demand of 6.2% expected over the next decade. Meanwhile, Airbus produced the majority of the remaining 242 aircraft handed over to Chinese operators last year and the European manufacturer has well-established a final assembly line for A320-family aircraft at Tianjin.

This year, the Chinese aviation market is expected to pass 600m passengers for the first time, up from only 440m just five years ago. China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines lead the way, each carrying more than 95m ppa. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has revised its forecasts and suggests China will overtake the United States as the world’s busiest aviation market in 2022, two years earlier than previously thought. IATA figures project 1.5bn travellers taking to the Chinese skies in 2036, comfortably surpassing the USA’s 1.1bn.

The ongoing growth in the Chinese market is very good news for the air transport industry - especially for manufacturers of aircraft, ground equipment and the devices and systems installed in airports. The Aviation Oracle can't help wondering whether this growth would be possible anywhere else though. Leaving aside the concern that other economies aren't growing at the same rate as China's, the western world in particular seems to have developed an aversion to extending and building airports, and this is undoubtedly starting to constrain traffic increases in some regions.

Text © The Aviation Oracle

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