Passenger miles: 77.35 billion in 2004 (compared 1 billion in Tunisia to 480 billion in the United States). Air travel is still something of a novelty in China. In the past only government officials and the very rich could afford it. Airports with scheduled flights: 467 (compared to 5 in Tunisia and 834 in the United States) Of these 403 had paved runways and 64 had unpaved runways. The People’s Liberation Army keep tight control of Chinese air space and discourages private flights.

China is home of the world's fastest-growing aviation market. By one estimate, air passenger traffic in China is projected to expand by nearly 8 percent annually for the next 20 years. The country plans to build 70 airports by 2020. According to statistics reported by the financial magazine Caixin, the number of civil aircraft is forecast to reach 2,600 by 2015, up from about 1,500 last year, and to jump to 4,360 by 2020.

In 2009, China became the world’s largest purchaser of passenger jetliners, spending twice as much as the U.S. did on passenger planes. Until then China was the world’s second largest aviation market after the United States. The number of air travelers rose from 3.4 million in 1980 to 16 million in 1990 to nearly 50 million in 1995 to 67.2 million in 2000 to 85.9 million in 2002 to 120 million in 2004 to 160 million in 2006 (compared to 658 million in the United States). In 1988, 95 percent of the air passenger in China were foreigners. Today 95 percent are Chinese.

Air travel demand is doubling every four years in China and is expected to expand fivefold between 2008 and 2028.The airlines and the industry as whole is having a hard time keeping up. In many cases, especially on busy routes like the one between Beijing and Shanghai, air space capacity falls far short of demand and the concentration of flights is too high.

To meet demand, China's domestic airlines will need to buy an estimated 4,330 new aircraft valued at $480 billion over the next two decades. China expects to order 1,100 new transport aircraft and 1,000 general aviation aircraft between 2011 and 2015 coming years According to civil aviation officials. China has quickly assembled one of the largest airline fleets in the world. A total of 145 new aircraft were delivered in 2005.

China’s airlines carried 20 percent more people in 2006 than they did in 2005, and are expected to carry 16 percent more---reaching 185 million passenger journeys in 2007, stretching the already overstretched ground support system. To deal with this problem China’s aviation authority announced plans in 2007 tor reducing flights to overstretched Beijing airport and banning the founding of new airlines until 2010. The arrival of 500,000 passengers by air for the Olympics is expected to be a challenge for Beijing

Websites and Resources

Airlines List and Links China Highlights ; Air China Air China , China Eastern Airlines Fly China Eastern , and China Southern Airlines Fly China Southern ; Small Airlines: Hainan Airlines hnair , Shanghai Airlines Shanghai Air ; and Shenzhen Airlines Shenzhen Air

Air Safety Airsafe Air Crashes Record Office . Aviation Safety Network ; Aviation Accidents U.S. Departmen of Transportation ; Air Claims Limited is a London-based aviation consulting firm that provided information on air safety.

Air Travel in China WebSites : Travel China Guide Travel China Guide ; China Highlights: China Highlights ; Main Airports: Beijing Capital International Airport BCIA , ; Wikipedia article on Beijing Airport Wikipedia; Wikipedia article on Shanghai Airport Shanghai , Wikipedia Wikipedia


Chinese Airlines

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, airlines in China were consolidated and deregulated to make the industry more efficient and competitive. Still the Chinese airline industry remains fragmented. There are more than a couple dozen different airlines operating in China. The small airlines generally operate a few routes in a particular region of China.

Airline companies in China generally do not perform very well and they have been hit hard in recent years by high fuel costs and increased competition. Foreign ownership is restricted to less than 50 percent.


Small Chinese Airlines

China started to deregulate its civil aviation in August 2005. Domestic investors are allowed to invest in six local carriers, including Shanghai Airlines, but are barred for investing in the three largest airlines: Air China, China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines.

Among the smaller and newer airlines are Xiamen Airlines, Hainan Airlines, and Sichuan Airlines. Yunnan-based Kunming Airlines and Hebei-based Dazhong Airlines received permission to begin operating in 2005. China approved the formation of privately-owned carries in 2004. There is now some discussion of creating a low-fare carrier. Okay Airlines is China’s first private operator. Shanghai Airlines is a privately-owned low-cost carrier. It has joined with low-cost carrier AirAsia to offer destinations in Southeast Asia, using Xiamen in southern China as a hub. In 2006, Shanghai Airlines announced it would join the Star Alliance.

China approved the formation of privately-owned carries in 2004. Xiamen Airlines conducts on board auctions for airline merchandise and seats on future flights. The largest shareholder in Hainan Airlines in the U.S. financier George Soros.

East Star airlines was the first Chinese carrier to go bankrupt. The Wuhan-based airline filed for bankruptcy in August 2009.

Only two private airlines have been given permission to offer international flights. Wuhan-based East Star airlines was given permission in 2007 but filed for bankruptcy in 2009. Shanghai-based Spring Airlines was given permission in July 2009.

Major Chinese Airlines

Air China, China Eastern Airlines, and Southern Airlines are the main airlines in China. Market share of China’s air passenger market in 2003: 1) China Southern (33.6 percent); 2) Air China (26.8 percent); 3) China Eastern (21.8 percent); 4) China Sky (8.5 percent); 5) Hainan Airlines (7.1 percent); 6) Others (2.2 percent).

China’s three main air carriers have come a long way in a short period. Not long ago they were inefficient, state-owned, money-losing enterprises. These days they are rapidly expanding companies that issue shares and are modernizing their fleets. Obstacles they still face including requirements to buy fuel at fixed prices from a government agency and flying routes at a predesignated altitude which prevents them from saving money by flying at a higher altitude. As WTO and trade agreements with other countries start to kick in they will have to start competing with international carriers.

China Southern Airlines is the largest Chinese airline in terms of fleet size. Based in Guangzhou, it purchased China Southern Airlines Northern and Xinjiang Airlines in November 2004 for $230 million. This increased its fleet size from 139 planes to 214. In September 2007, it ordered 25 Boeing 737s and 20 Airbus A320 for $3.7 billion.

China Southern made a 28 million yuan profit in the first three quarters of 2008 but lost 810 million yuan in the July to September quarter due to high fuel costs and declining passenger numbers. Its debt to equity ratio reached 80 percent.

Air China

Air China is China’s largest international carrier and unofficial flag carrier. Based in Beijing and formally known as CAAC, it has long been the butt of aviation jokes about surly flight attendants, uncomfortable seats, horrible food and scary landings. Air China stocks are sold at both the Hong Kong stock exchange and the London stock exchange. It has offered large share offerings to generate capital to buy planes to keep up with demand for air travel.

As of 2002 Air China operated 43 international and 71 domestic routes. Air China has code share-holding arrangement with Cathay Pacific and is a member of the Star Alliance. In September 2007, it made a deal to buy 23 Airbus A320 aircraft. The planes are scheduled to be delivered in January 2009 and December 2012 and have a list price of $1.4 billion.

The year 2008 was supposed it be a good year for Air China. It joined the Star Alliance and was the official carrier of the Olympics. But things didn’t turn out as planned. Air China lost 657 million yuan in the first three quarters of 2008 due to high fuel costs, bad weather in the peak travel seasons and declining passenger numbers. It lost $284 million alone in the third quarter of 2008 when the Olympics took place.

In August 2009, Air China increased its stake in Cathay Pacific to 29.99 percent, just a hair’s breadth below the 30 percent that would trigger a mandatory takeover offer.

Air China’s profits ($422 million) in the first half of 2009 were double what they were in 2008.

China Eastern

China Eastern Airlines is based in Shanghai and is the dominant carrier there. It is poorly run and was badly in debt in 2007. In January 2008, a plan for Singapore Airlines and Temasek, the Singapore-owned investment company, to purchase a 24 percent stake of the airlines for $930 million was voted down by company shareholders. Instead China Eastern was considering a $1.9 million offer from Air China for a 30 percent stake. China Eastern ended up rejecting Air China’s bid too.

In November 2008, it was reported that parent companies of China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines would each receive loans of $440 million from the government to help them get through rough times causesd by high fuel prices and declining business as a result of the global economic crisis.

In June 2009, China Eastern announced that was going to buy 20 Airbus320 jets for $1.45 billion

In 2009, China Eastern spent $1.3 billion to merge with Shanghai Air making Shanghai Airlines a wholey-owned subsidiary.

China Eastern Airlines lost $2.2 billion in 2008 due to high fuel costs and declining passenger numbers. Its debt to equity ratio reached 90 percent.

The deal between China Eastern and Singapore Airlines and Temasek Holding fell through. China Eastern is still looking for investors.

Foreign Airlines in China

U.S. airlines have fought aggressively among themselves for the rights to Chinese air routes. Much of the lobbying is directed at the U.S. Congress who decides who gets what routes. In May 2008, United and U.S. Airways asked for a one year delay in launching their coveted new routes to China, citing high fuel costs.

In July 2005, Federal Express announced it was shifting it Asia-Pacific hub from Subic Bay, Philippines to Baiyun International Airport outside Guangzhou in southern China. The company plans to spend $150 million for a facility with 82,000 square meters on 63 hectares and is expected to be operational in 2008.

In 2006, a low cost airlines, Spring, sold 400 tickets on a new route from Shanghai to the northern city of Jinan for one yuan the equivalent of 13 cents a piece. The usual price on the route is 760 yuan. Not only did the airlines lose money on the promotion is was fined $20,000 by the Chinese government for violating pricing rules.

Airplane Industry in China

China is already a major assembler and parts supplier for some of the world's best-known aircraft. Airbus' A320s reach their final assembly in the northern port city of Tianjin. Half of Boeing's fleet of 12,000 airplanes includes components made in China. About 600,000 Chinese workers are employed in aerospace, about as many as in the United States.

China has struggled to build its own aircraft for decades. The country's leaders have dreamed of building a major jetliner ever since President Nixon landed in Beijing in a gleaming Boeing 707 Air Force One in 1972.

Comac--- state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China--- will soon roll out its first regional jet, the 78-seat ARJ21 Soaring Phoenix. Chinese officials have hailed it as a breakthrough. But experts said the ARJ21 could have a tough time competing outside China against cutting-edge models from Canada's Bombardier and Brazil's Embraer.

Chinese-Made Airplanes

China produces its own jets through a consortium of Chinese companies. China has two state aircraft makers, AVICI and AVIC II. AVIV I, parent of Xian Aircraft International Corp., developed the ARJ21. AVIC II’s Hafei Aviation Industry makes the ERJ-145 regional jet with Brazil’s Embraer. AVIV1 is planning to manufacture advanced regional jets that can be used on short routes in the less populated western provinces. Both AVIVI and AVIVII supply parts for the Airbus A380 jumbo jet and the Boeing Dreamliner.

In September 2009, China unveiled the design for a domestically-produced commercial jet at the Hong Kong air show. The new plane---the C919---will be produced by the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC). It has a single aisle and will hold between 168 and 190 passengers. In 2009, engine makers France-based Safran and U.S.-based GE signed multi-billion contacts to supply jet engines for the plane. Test flights are planned for 2012, with the first deliveries taking place in 2016.

In May 2008, China established a consortium to make regional commercial jets. It hopes the company will one day make 150-seat planes, cargo planes that can carry 100 tons and jumbo jets so as to reduce China’s reliance in Boeing and Airbus. The consortium is is supported by the municipal government of Shanghai---where the ARJ21 regional jet is being built---and China’s two state aircraft makers, AVICI and AVIC II, are located..

The ARJ21-700 was unveiled in 2007 and test flown in 2008 and is expected to be delivered to its first customers in late 2009. It is expected to carry 70 to 100 passengers. A total of 181 customers had signed up for the plane as of spring 2008. Chinese aviation companies are working with McDonnell Douglas to create the plane. General Electric was the first foreign company to place orders for the plane. It also supplies parts for the plane,

In March 2007, Beijing approved a plan for China to build its own large commercial airliners and possibly challenge Boeing and Airbus. No time frame was given. Expert say such an aircraft would be ready in 2020 in the earliest.

As of September 2009, AVIC had received 208 orders for its 70-seat ARJ21 jets. The ARJ21 will be China’s first domestically-produced commercial jet. ARJ21 stand for Advanced Regional Jet for the 21st century

Chinese C919 Aircraft

China is now developing a commercial, the 156-seat, single-aisle C919, which it hopes will available to buyers in 2016 and will compete with the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320, top-selling planes by the world's only manufacturers of large commercial aircraft. The C919 will be produced by Comac, short for the state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China. A full-scale mockup of the C919 was displayed in November 2010 at the Airshow China in Zhuhai, a seaside city near Macao. [Source: David Pierson, Los Angeles Times, November 13, 2010|

David Pierson wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “The communist government has staked billions of dollars and national pride on the effort. The effort underscores the nation's determination to shed its reputation as a low-cost producer of cheap goods and move up the development ladder. What may surprise some Americans worried about slipping U.S. competitiveness is that some well-known U.S. companies are aiding China in its quest. Honeywell International Inc. will supply power units, on-board computing systems, wheels and brakes; Rockwell Collins Inc. will handle navigation systems; GE Aviation is building the avionics; Eaton Corp. is involved with fuel and hydraulics; and Parker Aerospace of Irvine is responsible for flight controls. Powering the aircraft will be two fuel-efficient engines built by CFM International, a company co-owned by GE and French conglomerate Safran. [Ibid]

“China isn't content just to buy sophisticated gear for the C919; the government has required foreign suppliers to set up joint ventures with Chinese companies. That has put U.S. and European suppliers in a tough spot: Be willing to hand over advanced technology to Chinese firms that could one day be rivals or miss out on what's likely to be the biggest aviation bonanza of the next half a century. Honeywell alone has snagged contracts worth more than $11 billion for the project.” [Ibid]

"You're faced with either being part of it or not," Billy Lay, a Dubai-based partner at PRTM, an international consulting firm with expertise in aerospace told the Los Angeles Times. "I don't know what the alternatives are." Roger Seager, GE Aviation's vice president and general manager for China,"If they launch a commercial aviation industry, you've got to be part of it," said Seager, whose company has garnered contracts worth about $6 billion for the C919. "You can't take a pass and come back in 10 years. You've got to jump in with both feet now.... We would be remiss if we weren't trying to be part of their growth." [Ibid]

“The aircraft's builders are so confident, the first "9" in the jetliner's name was picked because it sounds like "forever" in Chinese,” Pierson wrote. “State-owned carriers China Airlines, China Southern and China Eastern are expected to announce orders for the C919 at Still, the C919's success is anything but assured. Japan, South Korea and Indonesia all failed in their attempts to build large jets. Repeated delays in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and recent problems with the Airbus A380's engine show that even the most experienced players can stumble. With the C919, Comac will have to master the precise integration of thousands of parts, develop a reliable maintenance network and then persuade airlines to trust the largely untested jet. Some analysts are already predicting delays in delivery. But aviation insiders warn against underestimating China's resolve.” [Ibid]

Boeing and Airbus in China

China Aviation has been making tail sections for Boeing since 1996. It plans to start making passenger aircraft in 2006. China has ordered so many planes from Airbus that Airbus is considering opening an Airbus assembly plant in China, the first outside of Europe.

The first Chinese-assembled Airbus---an A320---made at a plant in northern Tianjin was delivered in June 2009. The plant in Tianjin is modeled after the airbus plant in Hamburg, Germany. It required an investment of $1.47 billion and opened in September 2008. The plant will produce 10 middle distance A319/320s by the end of 2009 and produce four planes a month by 2012. The facility is 51 percent owned by Airbus and 49 percent owned by a Chinese aviation consortium.

Airbus sold its first plane in China in 1985 and has gone through great lengths to establish itself in perhaps the world’s dynamic aviation market. It is estimated that the Chinese will purchase 2,800 passenger and transport planes over the next 20 years.

Boeing Versus Airbus in China

Currently Boeing and Airbus each control about half the Chinese market for big planes. But the Chinese government has no intention of ceding all of that future business to foreign aircraft makers.

Boeing and Airbus are in fierce competition to get buyers in China. According to Boeing, China will be the largest market for new air craft over the new 20 years after the United States. Airbus has said it expected to sell 1,600 planes in China while Boeing estimates it will sell 2,000 aircraft.

In March 2011, Boeing announced a $10 billion deal with two Chinese airlines. In September 2006, Boeing finalized orders for 150 737 plans from eight Chinese carriers for $10 billion. In January 2005, Boeing announced that it had a preliminary order from China for 60 787s Dreamliners in a deal worth $7.2 billion. In August 2005, China announced it would buy 50 more 787 for $6 billion.

Airbus claims two thirds of the market for Chinese passenger aircraft In 2004, when it sold 47 planes in China. In 2005, it sold 220 and made a $9 billion deal to sell 150 Airbus aircraft, including narrow-body A320s and 24 superjumbo A320s. China has ordered so many planes from Airbus that Airbus is opening an Airbus assembly plant in China, the first outside of Europe.

In November 2007, China agreed to buy 160 planes from Airbus, including 110 A320s and 50 A330s, for $14.8 billion. In August 2007, China and Airbus announced a plan to produce A320s in China.

In 1996, China delayed a $4 billion aircraft deal with Boeing and ordered $1.5 billion worth of planes for Airbus. In 1997, Boeing signed a $3 billion deal with China for thirty-six 737s, five 758s, one 747, eight 777s. In an effort to win a 1,900 plane contract with China worth $124 billion Boeing upgraded China's air control system.

Service on Chinese Airlines

20080313-china airline stewaress in 19090 mandarin collar u wash.jpg
Air China stewaedess in 1990

In the old days CAAC stewardesses did revolutionary dances in the aisles and passengers carried their luggage across the tarmac tp the plane. In-flight meal often were a package of cookies. In the event of an accident, families of passengers who were killed were awarded only $4,300 and the deceased was given a full refund on his ticket.

In 1995, China's Civil Aviation Authority announced it was going to set new rules to improve the safety standards and service of China's air lines. Among the new rules were ones that said that airlines would have provide accommodation for passengers of delayed flights.

These days, long delays, mob-scene lines, and strained tempers are all hallmarks of air travel in China. One study in 2004 found that two of every three flights within China doesn’t take off on time. Delays are especially common on crowded routes such as the one between Beijing and Shanghai. The airlines are usually not at fault---delays are usually caused by bad weather and travel management---but that doesn’t make passengers feel any better. In recent years Chinese passengers fed up with mysterious delays, rude airline employees and poor service and fought back by refusing to leave the aircraft until they were given a refund.

China is plagued by a shortage of pilots, a lack of airports and inadequate air-traffic control systems. In June 2003, there were six mishaps in a month involving domestic flights on four carriers: Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, and Hainan Airlines. The problems involved landing difficulties and mechanical failure. In one case a plane careened off a runway during landing. In another a plane made an emergency landing after experiencing severe shaking during the take off and almost left the runway when it landed.

Passenger etiquette often leaves much to be desired. Passengers often have to be told directly to buckle up their seat belts and often stand up at the end the flight before the plane has come to a complete stop. Sometimes there are too many carry on bags to fit in the overhead compartments so bags are stuffed into the rear bathrooms.

Sometimes the passengers can be quite rowdy, drinking heavily and sometimes singing at the top their lungs, laughing when they are told to pipe down. Passengers that get upset because of delays demand this and that and take out their frustrations on the flight attendants, who are sometimes reduced to tears. There have been reports of passengers who have never flown before trying to open the emergency doors in mid flight.

Pilots in China

The booming air travel industry is creating a shortage of pilots. China-based airlines need 55,000 new pilots in the next 20 years with an expected a short fall of 8,000 pilots over the next 10 years. The Chinese are currently recruiting pilots from Europe.

Pilots are paid between $2,466 and $6,000 a month in China, compared to $8,000 a month in India and $8,000 to $18,000 a month in Britain.

There have been reports of pilots refusing to land. According to the Beijing News pilots on 18 China Eastern Airlines routes refused to land because of bad weather and returned to their point of departure during regional flights in southern Yunnan Province.

China is facing a pilot shortage. It needs over 2,000 pilots a years just to keep up with anticipated growth. Among the places it is seeking new pilots is Brazil.

After the Henan Airlines plane crash in August that killed 42 people in northeast China,officials discovered that 100 pilots who worked for the airline’s parent company had falsified their flying histories.

Flight Attendants in China

Flight attendants on Chinese airlines are expected to be young, pretty and the same height. Few girls are still flying in their 30s. The mandatory retirement age is 45. The height requirement is very strict: between 5 foot 4 and 5 foot 7. If you don’t fit that criteria you can’t be a flight attendant. There are a number flight academy schools in China that offer classes in etiquette, psychology, English and world geography.

China Southern Airlines has gone as far as setting up a televised beauty pageant---complete with a swimsuit competition and race involving luggage, make up brushes and drink trays---to recruit young women for flight attendant positions.

A mother of one contestant told the Los Angeles Times, “I think this kind of contest is fair. This is a service industry. A lot of other airlines have flight attendants who are very attractive. People always talk about which airlines has the best-looking flight attendants.”

These days flight attendant on Chinese airlines get paid about $1,000 a month, a very high salary in China, but they have to work their butts off---often from dawn until late in the night on five or six flight a day---and are on the front lines dealing with angry passengers when flights are delayed and other things go wrong.

A 21-year-old flight attendant from Shanghai told the New York Times, “When I was very small, this was kind of a dream job; a beautiful woman’s profession, a life for a gentle person. But one dreams these things less and less. Daily life is full of difficulties and stress, and there’s no time to relax, really. Last year, I had juts seven days off.”

Chinese Airports

China has 166 airports (2010), with 40 or so built in the last decade. In isolated places airports provide vital links to the outside world. Even with all these airports air traffic is dominated by a handful of large city airports, The top eight airports handle about half of all passenger traffic while the top three---in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou---handle half of all cargo traffic. Analysts estimated that two thirds of China’s airports are losing money. In 2008, the Chinese government announced it planned to spend $62 billion to build 97 additional airports by 2020 to boost the total number of airports to 240.

Beijing Capital International Airport (about 15 miles from the Forbidden City) is the busiest airport in China and the ninth busiest airport in world. It handled 48.7 million passengers in 2006, up from 41 million passengers in 2005. The number is expected to reach 60 million in Olympic year 2008. With the exception of the new airport in Hong Kong, Beijing International Airport is much larger and better-equipped than other Chinese airport.

New Beijing terminal

Expansion phase 1 for the Beijing airport---completed in October 1999---added a new large H-shaped terminal next to drab old airport, notorious it poor service and the crowds that jostled for space around the check-in counters, arrival area and taxi stands. A third terminal---used by mainly by Air China and its domestic and international partners---and runway are scheduled to be completed at a cost $2.4 billion before the 2008 Olympics. Designed by the famous architect Norman Foster, the new terminal will be the world’s largest terminal, covering 10 million square feet and increasing capacity at the airport to 78 million passengers a year.

The new $1.5 billion Shanghai Pudong International Airport is 20 miles east of Shanghai in the Pudong development zone. Opened in October 1999, it boasts a sweeping French-designed blue roof model after a pair of wings and is slated to be able to accommodate 80 million passengers. Pudong airport had a capacity of 126,000 flights and 20 million passengers in the early 2000s. An expansion project launched in December 2005 included the construction of a second terminal and a third runway. The project is schedule to be completed in 2008. By 2015, Pudong airport will have a total of three terminals, two satellite halls and five runways.

There are five major airports with 80 miles of Guangzhou: in Guangzhou, Hong Kong. Macau, Shenzhen and Zhuhai. Baiyun Airport in Guangzhou opened in August 2004. Just 80 miles away from Hong Kong, it cost $2.4 billion and has two runways and will be able to handle 25 million passengers a year by 2010.

In August 2008, stranded passengers in Kunming smashed computers and desks and clashed with police after being stuck at the airport over night because their flights were cancelled because of bad weather. The passengers had to spend the night on the planes or in the terminal without food. Many became angry after taking taxis to a hotel where the airline said they could stay only to be turned away.

Chinese authorities stepped up airport security banning liquids and requiring more thorough baggage checks after a reported hijacking attempt in early 2008. See Xinjiang.

New Mega-Airport in Beijing

Jonathan Watt wrote in the Guardian, “Beijing is moving to overtake London as the world's busiest aviation hub with the construction of a third airport that could have as many as nine runways. The new mega-project---part of a huge expansion of China's airline industry---has alarmed environmental groups, who warn aircraft will increasingly contribute to the country's already dire pollution problems and high greenhouse gas emissions.

Work began in August 2011 on a site in the rural district of Daxing, about 31 miles (50km) south-west of the city centre. On the roadside, labourers are building an elaborate 10 meter-high steel and concrete map of the world topped by giant red characters declaring: "Construction of a New Airport City for the Capital."

In addition to a semi-military airport in Nanyuan, this first phase---due for completion in 2015---will give the city the capacity to handle 120 million passengers a year. Depending on growth, this would see Beijing overtake London and Tokyo, which each had about 100 million in 2010. Even by Chinese standards, the proposals for the later stages of construction are staggering.

According to the domestic media and sources familiar with the project, the new airport is being designed to ultimately handle between 120 million and 200 million passengers, and have eight civilian runways and perhaps another for the military if Nanyuan is closed. Denver international airport currently has the most runways in the world with six. Once completed, the new airport will be connected to a new expressway and high-speed train line that will speed travellers to the centre of the city in 30 minutes. Today, however, Daxing is more than an hour's drive away.

Impact of New New Mega-Airport in Beijing

Jonathan Watt wrote in the Guardian, “Rumours about the exact location have been circulating for several years. Most focus on Nangezhuan, a village in Daxing not far from the new monument, which is set amid corn fields, orchards and fruit sellers hawking pears under red umbrellas. Locals live in white-washed, one-storey brick homes, many of which are scruffily daubed with phone-numbers advertising well-digging companies. Incomes here are low---about 1,200 yuan (£105) to 2,500 (£215) per month. But expectations are high for the new airport and the money it might bring.

"Everything you can see will be airport," said Cui Hongxian, a farmer who owns a quarter hectare of land, with confidence. "We haven't negotiated yet, but I've heard they will start building next year." Many others are hoping for economic benefits - and not just in Beijing. The government's latest five-year economic plan calls for the expansion of eight international airports, the construction of many more new smaller airports and feasibility studies for new aviation hubs in Chengdu, Qingdao and Xiamen. It has also promised to open up private aviation, which will allow China's mega-rich to splurge on luxury private jets as well as their Lambourghinis, Rolls Royce and Aston Martins.

As well as the noise, traffic, loss of arable land and threat to birds, airports are a major source of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Depending on the size of the aircraft, the burning of fuel during a single flight produces between 8-50kg of nitrogen oxide as well as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulphur oxide. "I'm concerned aviation has not had as much attention as traditional high-emission industries and people have not really changed the way they think about travel," said Li Yan of Greenpeace.

Compared to the US and Europe, China's aviation sector is small, but it is catching up fast. This is inevitable, said Yang Fuqiang of the Natural Resources Defence Council, a US-based NGO, who urged airlines to improve energy efficiency among airlines, passengers to use carbon offsetting and the government to monitor emissions from aviation more closely.

China's aviation industry is already booming. Last year, it reported a profit of 43 billion yuan (£3.9 billion), triple the figure for the previous year. In the coming 20 years, China is forecast to buy 4,300 new jet aircraft. But there are concerns that the environmental impacts are being overlooked.

China Bars its Airlines from Paying European Carbon Tax

In February 2012, AP reported: China announced it will prohibit its airlines from paying European Union charges on carbon emissions, ratcheting up a global dispute over the cost of combatting climate change. The charges are aimed at curbing emissions of climate-changing gases but governments including China, the United States and Russia oppose them. The ratings agency Fitch warned in December the conflict could spiral into a global trade dispute. [Source: Joe McDonald, Associated Press, February 6, 2012]

The Chinese air regulator said China's carriers are barred from paying the charges or other fees without government permission, Xinhua reported. The dispute highlights Beijing's complicated status in global climate efforts. China is the biggest source of climate-changing gases but as a developing country is exempt from Kyoto Protocol emission limits.

The emissions trading system went into effect at the start of 2012 as part of European efforts to reduce global warming. Airlines flying to or from Europe must obtain certificates for carbon dioxide emissions. They will get free credits to cover most flights this year but must buy or trade for credits to cover the rest. The United States, China, Russia, India and many other countries are opposed and say the bloc cannot impose taxes on flights outside its own airspace. In Washington Congress has voted to exclude U.S. airlines from the emissions cap-and-trade program.

EU officials have said they acted unilaterally because of a doubling of aviation carbon emissions in Europe between 1990 and 2006 and the inability of governments to forge a global deal on reducing emissions. Schaffrath insisted that Airbus is working to reducing emissions but argued that a Europe-only measure creates trade imbalances. "Our sector is committed to green aircraft," he said. "We truly believe that the global issue of emissions does not know boundaries, and we need a global solution."

"China objects to the EU's decision to impose the scheme on non-EU airlines," Xinhua quoted a statement by the Civil Aviation Administration of China as saying. Beijing could have unusually strong leverage in a possible dispute because its state-owned airlines carry large numbers of Chinese and other Asian tourists to Europe. Any disruption would hurt Europe's travel industry when the continent is struggling with a debt crisis and high unemployment. The International Air Transport Association has criticized the charges as "market distorting." It says the EU should negotiate through the International Civil Aviation Organization to reach a global agreement.

Airbus Says China Blocking Orders over EU Scheme

In March 2012, AP reported: China is blocking orders for at least $12 billion worth of Airbus jets to protest the European Union's emissions trading fees, in a new challenge to the program aimed at fighting global warming, the planemaker said Thursday. With some analysts warning of a brewing trade war, Airbus spokesman Stefan Schaffrath said his company is seeing "retaliation threats" from 26 countries, "in particular from China." Speaking to The Associated Press, he said 35 orders by Chinese airlines for A330 planes are on hold because China's government is refusing to approve them. He said orders for another 10 A380 superjumbos are also under threat, and that the combined list prices of the aircraft is $12 billion. [Source: Angela Charlton, Associated Press, March 8, 2012]

EU officials defended the emissions system. Asked about the Airbus complaint at the daily midday briefing, EU spokesman Isaac Valero Ladron said, "I'm not in a position to make any comments about possible trade decisions. I think it's in everybody's interest to reduce greenhouse gases, which affects climate change, and airplanes affect that, as well."

Global airlines called for a UN-brokered deal to prevent a row over aviation emissions between China and the European Union spilling into a damaging trade war. The call by the head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) comes amid signs that the EU may be willing to soften a unilateral stance that also risks souring efforts to resolve Europe's sovereign debt crisis with Chinese support. [Source: Reuters, February 13, 2012]

Image Sources: 1) Nolls China website

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2012

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