China’s newest mega-airport has opened in Chengdu this weekend. The Chengdu Tianfu Airport saw inaugural flights by Sichuan Airlines first, followed by other carriers, including China Eastern. The airport is capable of handling 60 million passengers and is set to grow capacity to double that over the coming decade.
Third city opens a second airport
The high growth of China’s air travel demand has seen a number of huge mega airports opened in recent years. Shanghai was the first city to launch a second airport for added capacity some 20 years ago, with Pudong now handling more than 75 million passengers a year (from 2019 figures). Its ongoing expansion has given it a current capacity of 80 million passengers a year, putting it in one of the top 10 largest airports in the world.
More recently, the huge starfish-shaped Beijing Daxing airport opened in 2019, which is intended to be capable of handling 75 million passengers. It is providing welcome relief for the oversubscribed Beijing Capital Airport (PEK), which flew more than 100 million passengers in 2019.
Now, a third Chinese city has opened its second airport, with Chengdu Tianfu Airport operating its first flights yesterday. The old Chengdu Shuangliu Airport was the fourth busiest in the country in 2019, processing in excess of 55 million passengers, five million more than the airport was designed to handle.
Inaugural flights operate
The new Tianfu Airport will offer a welcome alternative gateway for both domestic and international passengers. Home of the giant pandas, the Sichuan province is a popular tourist destination for both Chinese visitors and those from abroad, although, for the time being, the airport will mainly cater to the former as China remains largely closed to external visitors.
The new airport has been built for capacity, with three runways and two terminals. Its capacity is set to be 60 million passengers a year right now, but it’s not stopping there. By 2035, the airport will add three more runways, doubling its capacity to 120 million passengers. To accommodate this uptick, the terminals will be expanded from their current size of 710,000 square meters to 1.4 million square meters.
The inaugural flight was operated by Sichuan Airlines, flying to Beijing (PEK) as flight number 3U8001. It took off with an Airbus A350-900 at 11:10 yesterday, landing two hours and 22 minutes later. It was closely followed by flights from Beijing Airlines (operated by Air China) and China Eastern. Scheduled to join these operators over the coming days are Lucky Air, Chengdu Airlines and Spring Airlines.
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More than 150 new airports on the way
China’s aviation ambitions will see many more airports like this one opening soon. By 2035, the country is aiming to have as many as 400 airports in use, a big jump from the 241 that are currently in operation. As many as 30 of these are planned to be added by 2025.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has set out its ambitions in its 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) period, according to CAAC official Zhang Qing speaking at a press conference in March. He says that such aviation infrastructure can help to feed China’s ‘Dual Circulation’ development, by allowing domestic and overseas markets to reinforce each other.