Building boom for Chinese airports

Building boom for Chinese airports

Shippers frequently encounter cargo backlogs at Chinese airports, especially during the peak season. But a massive infrastructure program should help smooth cargo flows and encourage development of China's vast interior.

New terminals are planned for Shanghai and Beijing, the nation's two busiest airports. Guangzhou will open a big new airport next June. Shippers could benefit most, though, from airport projects in western provinces that have lagged as economic growth surged in the coastal areas during the past two decades.

Following the opening of the new Baiyun International Airport in Guangzhou next June, the next new airport in China will be at Kunming, in the remote southwestern province of Yunnan. Ping Wang of GCW Consulting in Arlington, Va., a consultant to Chinese carriers and airports, said construction at Kunming will start in the first quarter of 2004.

China's busiest airports are likely to remain those in the export-driven coastal areas. The number of terminals at Shanghai's Pudong International Airport will double to four with the construction of facilities for Air China and Shanghai Airlines. Shanghai's biggest existing terminal, Pudong Air Cargo Terminal Ltd., opened in October of 2002 but continues to add warehouse space. The other big terminal, operated by China Eastern Airlines, principal owner of China Cargo Airlines, also is scheduled for expansion.

Space constraints at Beijing's airport will ease with the opening of a new Air China terminal early next year. The airport's old terminal will then be occupied by China Southern. Beijing authorities plan to open another cargo facility in 2007.

The new Guangzhou airport will have a cargo capacity of 800,000 tons annually, compared with 200,000 tons at the existing airport. The airport is home to China Southern, the nation's largest carrier. Because of its location in the heart of the Pearl River Delta, the world's busiest manufacturing center, Guangzhou could be attractive to foreign carriers such as FedEx, which recently launched the first direct service from Shenzhen to the U.S.

Chengdu, in the western province of Sichuan, is considering expansion of its airport, but Wang said it has no room to grow and has recommended construction of a new airport. Airports also are being expanded in cities closer to the coast. Nanjing airport, 200 miles from Shanghai, is planning to expand its cargo terminal, while Wuxi, even closer to Shanghai, is considering converting an air force base into a cargo-only airport.