China's Local Governments To Open New Airports Across Nation, Banking On Economic Potential

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May 23, 2013 7:26 PM EST

Local governments in China are making a push to build more airports in their cities in hopes of boosting economic activity. In southern Hunan Province, the government has made plans to build seven additional airports, which would join the area’s five existing airports that have been losing money.

According to the Economic Observer, Hengyang Nanyue Airport will be Hunan’s sixth civilian airport. The province is investing 30 billion yuan in adding a total of seven new airports by the end of 2015, Chen Guaoqiang, director of Hunan Airport Management Group announced. “Hunan will become the province with the most airports in the south-central region,” Chen said.

However, it isn’t just Hunan that plans to build more domestic airports. According to China’s 12th Five-Year Plan period, which began in 2011 and will end in 2015, 56 brand new airports will be built across China while 91 existing airports will expand. This means that about 80 percent of China’s population will be within 100 kilometers of an airport.

It seems though, for the most part, that many of the smaller domestic airports reflect some of China’s other architectural oddities, the now famous "ghost cities." The report describes an average day at the Lingling Airport, which was built in 2001 and is the only civilian airport in southeast Hunan. Lingling does not have any flights during the day, and does not see travelers until around 6 p.m., when people start trickling in. Still, the report says, this only lasts for a couple of hours before the airport gets empty again.

According to data released by the Civil Aviation Administration of China, Lingling only handled 12,056 passengers in 2012, making it the 174th busiest airport out of China’s total of 183 airports. Each year, the airport requires additional government subsidies valued at 10 million yuan to sustain itself, and still, the province insists on expanding.

The newest project, the Hengyang Airport has many worried it will end up like Lingling. “There will certainly be three to five years of losses,” an anonymous source with the transportation division of Hengyang Municipal Development and Reform Commission told the Economic Observer.

However, Hengyang Nanyue Airport’s general manager, Zou Xueming, insists that the newer airport has an important distinction that will make it more profitable. “[Lingling Airport] is a joint civilian and military airport,” he said in the report. “Flights applications are very difficult [because of this]. But Hengyang Airport will only be a civilian airport.” Zou is also insistent that after a few years of initial losses, business will pick up due to the presence of international companies in the area, like Omron and Foxconn. He says that the added airport will boost accessibility, which will result in increased tourism revenues. 

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