CAAC wants more airports

By Xin Dingding (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-08-02 06:48

Although China has the world's fastest growing civil aviation industry, more airports are needed to extend airline services to more parts of the country, a senior official said recently.

"The number of airports is still small compared to other countries," Yang Yuanyuan, head of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), said while addressing a training course for airport senior managers.

In contrast to the United States, which is home to nearly 20,000 airports, and Brazil, with more than 2,500, China has less than 500, and then only if temporary runways are included.

And the distribution is unbalanced. The density of airports in eastern China is 5.3 times the national average, while the density in western China is less than two-thirds the average.

As a result, the country's dozen large airports are operating beyond their capacity, which raises their logistics costs, while many small ones are losing money because of a lack of passengers.

Yang said that although less than 20 percent of all air passengers use small airports, they are "very important cornerstones of the sustainable development of civil aviation".

"Airports should be regarded as public infrastructure," he said.

"Local governments can continue to let profitable large airports operate as enterprises, but they should treat medium-sized and small airports as public welfare facilities."

Wang Wei, a professor at the Tianjin-based Civil Aviation University of China, agreed with that assessment, saying such an approach would spur the development of airports.

He told China Daily that the widespread notion that airports are enterprises rather than infrastructure had kept local governments and large airport groups from building more small airports in recent years.

"If you simply look at the figures reflecting an airport's performance, it may seem like they are losing money. But the benefits they provide to the local economy and tourism sector are huge," Wang said.

CAAC director Yang urged local governments and large airport groups to "pay enough attention to the development of small airports" by providing necessary support.

(China Daily 08/02/2007 page3)

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