Passengers wait at Terminal 3 of Beijing Capital International Airport in August. The airport handles more than 74 million travelers annually, but aviatian experts argue its air traffic control operates at about half capacity. Photo: CFP
The long-debated second capital airport is scheduled for completion in October 2017 in Daxing district but aviation experts insist it will not resolve the city's congested airspace at current levels of air traffic control.
The second airport will have eight runways for commercial airliners and one for the military, according to Yao Weihui, general manager of China United Airlines (CUA).
The new airport project will be approved this year and built in Daxing district, the Beijing News reported Tuesday.
Beijing might in the long run need a new airport, but building a new airport is absolutely not the right way to solve the problem of delays and air traffic congestion, civil aviation experts agreed Tuesday.
"The most important thing is not a new airport, but better air traffic control," said Zhang Qihuai, chief expert of the China Aviation Law Service Center, told the Global Times Tuesday.
Beijing Capital International Airport brings at most 50 percent of its potential into play, Zhang explained.
China's air traffic management method is outdated, he said. In the West, it is common to find four to five layers of air traffic operating at any given time over the airfield area, according to Zhang.
"Our airports can only handle two layers of air traffic, three at most," he said.
Training of air traffic controllers has not been able to stay in pace with China's fast growth of aviation demand, he said.
"If the Western airports are a ‘professional army,' then our airports operate more like guerrillas."
Beijing Nanyuan Airport, operated mainly by CUA, will be closed after completion of the second airport," Liu Heng, CUA publicity office employee, told the Global Times Tuesday.
To fill the capacity gap before the second airport is built, Liu said, the CUA would invest 300 million yuan ($46 million) into expanding Nanyuan.
After expansion, Nanyuan will accommodate 25 CUA airliners and be able to handle annual traffic of 6 million passengers, according to Liu.
The expansion will relieve pressure on congested Beijing Capital International Airport.
Last year's annual passenger traffic volume of Nanyuan airport was 2.28 million, he said.
CUA will move its base to the second airport after the project's completion, Liu said.
The Beijing News quoted an anonymous source from the Civil Aviation Administration of China as saying that management of the Nanyuan airport after the second airport's completion is under discussion.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China had not replied to a faxed question as of Tuesday evening.