And Finally, Aviation

Flight capital

Beijing gets the nod for second giant airport

Beijing Airport w

Sleeping zones needed here

Visitors to IKEA’s Chinese stores have been known to take naps on the beds on display. But last month the Swedish furniture giant scored a new marketing coup by creating a two-bedroom mini-store at Terminal 3 in Beijing’s airport, according to China News Service. It was a great chance for a few lucky passengers to have a snooze, because the airport is one of the worst for flight delays.

It turns out that IKEA’s airport strategy is a bit more sophisticated than a pop-up presence. Two years ago it launched its flagship store in Daxing, a southerly suburb of the capital, in a move shaped by the likelihood of Beijing’s second airport being built there (see WiC 96 for earlier mentions of the airport plan). That foresight may now have been rewarded. Late last month the central government finally approved the construction of the new four-runway facility, which is expected to take five years to build at a cost of Rmb80 billion ($13 billion).

Beijing is currently served by its Capital International Airport, as well as Nanyuan Airport for a smaller number of commercial and military flights. But congestion has been worsening. Almost 84 million people used the main hub last year, making it the second busiest globally behind Atlanta in the United States and taking it well beyond its design capacity.

The new airport – which will be built about 45km south of Beijing and linked to the city centre by rail – will absorb some of the overflow, as well as handling much of the anticipated increase in passengers in the years ahead. Initial speculation was that it might become more of a hub for low cost carriers. But the future for discount airlines in China is unclear and media reports this month have suggested that there is more likelihood it will be a second hub for full service airlines, competing with Narita in Japan and Incheon in South Korea.

The plan might also mean more opportunity for China Southern and China Eastern – the two main rivals of the country’s leading carrier Air China – to compete for business from northern China, where Air China uses Beijing Capital International Airport as a hub. As the People’s Daily points out, the new airport’s 72-million capacity will be larger than Guangzhou’s Baiyun and Shanghai’s Pudong, the home bases of the two rival carriers. One thing looks inevitable: Beijing will reign as the world’s busiest aviation hub.

Passengers will be more interested in whether the new airport will mean fewer flight delays. According to a study by air travel information service FlightStats, only 18% of flights left Beijing on time in 2013, while 42% suffered delays of 45 minutes or longer. Opening up more runway slots might ease some of the pressure. But as WiC has discussed before (see WiC83), delays are unlikely to drop significantly until the Chinese military opens up more airspace to civilian traffic.

Until then, expect battles for IKEA beds in Terminal 3 as weary passengers wait for their flights to depart.

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