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High-speed rail to feed Hebei airport

Now that China's high-speed rail has a stop close to the largest airport in Hebei province, the airport has become an even better alternate flight destination for travelers heading to or from nearby Beijing.

On Wednesday, the new high-speed rail terminal opened near Shijiazhuang Zhengding International Airport.

About 13,000 passengers, 70 percent of whom were individual travelers, used the airrail integration in the past two months after the train began stopping in the airport's rail station on Dec 26.

"The number of passengers using the airport by the end of 2015 will reach 10 million with the help of rail lines, double the number in 2012," said Zhang Yanjie, chairman of Hebei Airport Management Holdings.

One of the biggest incentives for passengers to use high-speed rail to get to the airport is that they can get a refund for their train tickets through March 31 when they take flights to and from there.

The airport has not decided whether it will extend the offer, said Li Ning, deputy general manager of the airport's management authority.

The offer targets passengers who take the high-speed trains from seven neighboring major cities - Beijing; Zhuozhou and Gaobeidian of Hebei province; Taiyuan and Yangquan of Shanxi province; and Zhengzhou and Anyang of Henan province.

A second-class, high-speed train ticket from Beijing to the airport costs 111 yuan ($18), and tickets from other cities are as little as 40 yuan.

The preferential policy attracted more passengers, as the airport management company had expected.

Li Hui, a Beijing resident studying in Hong Kong, cheered when she got back the money she had spent on her train tickets when she left on Feb 17. "I didn't expect to cut more expenses from my travel," the 26-year-old said. "It only costs me about 600 yuan for a trip from here to Hong Kong. It's hard to book tickets at this price in Beijing."

She said she encouraged her parents to visit Hong Kong before the train ticket refund policy expires.

The airport has spent more than 1 million yuan on the project, which doesn't collect money from airlines or the government, said Li, the airport's deputy general manager.

"It's not a small amount of money for our company but a necessary investment for a booming business in the future," he said.

The new railway connecting the airport with Beijing and other major cities persuaded more airline companies to open routes to Shijiazhuang.

"Many foreign airlines didn't get the access to fly to the capital airport, so they turned their focus on Shijiazhuang as a springboard and use the smooth air-rail integration to tap the capital market," Li said.

Far Eastern Air Transport, a Taiwan airline, added new routes connecting Shijiazhuang and Penghu, Taiwan, in 2013.

"We opened two routes in this airport, aiming to attract the larger group of Taiwan businessmen from Beijing," said Evan Teng, Far Eastern's deputy chief representative for the Chinese mainland.

He said more businesspeople from Beijing will consider flights from Shijiazhuang because they can reach the airport in a shorter time. "They may take that much time just to arrive in the (Beijing) airport and it may take a longer time considering the severe traffic jams," he said, "Besides, Beijing residents who want to travel to Taiwan will prefer the choice as well."

The cost of a round trip will be reduced by 800 yuan during the travel off-season, he said.

To offer better service, the airport will build a reception room at the Beijing West Railway Station soon.

Spring Airlines, based in Shanghai and famous for providing cheap flights within China, has opened 11 regular routes and three tour flights during the tourism season, making it one of the three largest bases of the company.

"We have strong confidence about the sales in this airport because of the high-speed railway," airline spokesman Zhang Wu'an told China Daily. "The local market is also growing larger after the economic boom of the province."

The airline also plans to open more routes and increase the capacity of the prosperous airport.

Diversion needed

Beijing faces the challenge of satisfying the increase of passengers with its limited traffic capacity. More than 81 million passengers used Beijing Capital International Airport in 2012, surpassing the designed capacity of 80 million.

Before the city's new airport comes into service in 2018, more than 37 million passengers in Beijing need to be diverted to neighboring airports, which requires the coordinated development of the Beijing, Tianjin and Shijiazhuang airports, according to the North China Regional Administration of Civil Aviation Administration of China.

"The detailed plan for diverting passengers will be released by the end of July," Li said.

Compared with Tianjin airport, the direct check-in in the railway station is the advantage of an airport in Shijiazhuang, he said.

In China, airports in metropolises like Beijing and Shanghai have fewer arrangements for more flights in recent years, while the neighboring airports didn't have enough passengers to make a profit, according to a Civil Aviation Administration report.

"It has been a trend to spread passengers to other airports, which requires smooth rail-air integration," Li said.

Contact the writers at zhengjinran@chinadaily.com.cn and peipei@chinadaily.com.cn

High-speed rail to feed Hebei airport

(China Daily 03/08/2013 page4)

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