The new Kunming Airport, due to open in 2011, will have a capacity of 38 million passengers per year (graphic: CAAC)
Tue 21 Oct 2008 – Whilst in Europe we fret over the environmental consequences of building a new runway, no such inhibitions are stopping a huge airport infrastructure expansion in China, where passenger traffic has nearly trebled since 2000. As of June this year, there are 155 commercial airports in the country. By 2010, there will be 190 and by 2020 the total is forecast to reach 244 airports, 97 of which will have been constructed during a 15-year period.
These staggering statistics were revealed by Diao Yonghai, Deputy Director General, Airport Department, Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), at a Sustainable Airports seminar held in London recently by the Society of British Aerospace Companies (SBAC) and the British Aviation Group.
During the period 1985 to 2007, the average growth rate in passenger traffic was 17% and cargo 16.85%. In 2007, passenger numbers reached 388 million, up 16.8% on the year before, cargo carried totalled 8,611,000 tonnes (+14.3%) and aircraft movements reached 3,941,000 (+13%). By 2010, CAAC predicts passenger traffic handled by airports in Mainland China will have grown to 540 million, an annual average growth of 14.5%, with cargo growing annually by 13% to 12.8 million tonnes.
Diao said there was a great demand for air transportation in his country, with rapid development driven by the domestic regional economy. Other factors included the steady increase in GDP per capita, the opening up of the tourism market and a rapid development in international trade.
The fast growth, he said, had brought about “unprecedented opportunities” to develop the country’s airports but had also put each airport under pressure through lack of capacity. He explained that 60 airports had reached or nearly reached saturation levels and China needed to deal with a shortage of airport infrastructure. China was investing about RMB140 billion ($20.5bn) in airport development over the 2006-2010 period. Funding, he said, would come from state and local governments as well as the airports themselves. He conceded that the current global financial crisis could have an adverse impact on raising the necessary investment.
China is not a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, so has no obligations towards cutting GHG emissions. However, Diao said Chinese aviation was “working towards environmental standards on greenhouse gas emissions”, but noise was a more important concern. More than 30 airports were affected by aircraft noise issues which, he said, not only restricts airport expansion but also brings a “negative effect” to city development.
Residents around airports, he said, were complaining about aircraft noise and cited the concerns over noise levels caused by the new third runway at Beijing. This was a “major challenge”, he concluded, and research was being carried out by CAAC with the help of foreign organizations.
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