To airline passengers, the Beijing Capital International Airport serves as a gateway that links the city and the outside world. This is not only because the airport can now accommodate aircraft from 69 cities around the globe, but also because it connects the capital with every major cities in the country, too. And in addition to passenger traffic, now at 12 million people/times annually, the airport is also a major hub for airfreight transport, handling some 1.02 million tons of freight last year, and expected to increase this tonnage in the coming years.
Given these high expectations and airport transportation overload, the city government began a 25 billion-yuan expansion project of the airport back in March 2004. The expansion features a gigantic state-of-the-art terminal building and a 3,800-m-long, 60-m-wide runway. Now, with the completion of the project almost in sight, the airport is expected to handle 500,000 airplanes, 60 million passengers and 1.8 million tons of cargo annually through to 2015.
Apart from a big jump in transport volume, the expanded and newly-equiped airport will also offer passengers more modern and convenient facilities and services, ranging from the high-speed intelligent luggage conveyors and fast security check points to spacious parking zones.
The bustling business turnover of the capital's airport over the past years may partially reflect the rapid and vigorous development of the domestic aviation industry. Statistics from the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC), the industry regulator, show the country's passenger and cargo transport reached 160 million people and 3.41 million tons of freight last year, up by 15 percent and 11.2 percent, respectively, from 2005, maintaining relatively the same growth rate over the preceding five years. The combined profits in the first 11 months of 2006 reached 9.01 billion yuan ($1.21 billion), with those of local airline companies and airports standing at 4.73 billion yuan and 3.02 billion yuan, respectively.
Some analysts believe the industry owes its steady and lucrative growth to China's fast economic and trade development and the booming tourism industry, whereas others also credit the nation's growing air transport networks, steadfast support by both central and local governments, and falling fuel prices in the world market. Whatever the reasons, China's aviation industry is standing on the verge of mammoth growth, following CAAC's prediction of 770 million passengers as well as an 16 million tons of freight passing through the airport by 2020.
Despite the optimistic predictions, the development of the aviation industry will not be an easy flight. Great challenges loom ahead, including fiercer competition from within and outside the country, cost controls, technology bottlenecks, and further deregulation of the market. Only when these problems are effectively resolved can China's aviation industry really reach for the sky.