Shanghai is set to become the aviation hub of mainland China and one of the busiest destinations in the world for flyers.

Daxing, Beijing’s shining new airport, has been cleared for take-off by the end of next month, ahead of the 70th anniversary of the people’s republic.

Shanghai is also upping the ante in its aviation rivalry with other key centers, with a futuristic midfield concourse at its five-runway Pudong Airport, which is second to none worldwide in size and set to be operational in October to feed more passengers onto intercontinental routes.

Shanghai has also been looking beyond its own turf and has set its sights on the neighboring province of Jiangsu for the site of a third airport, as the city’s aviation industry climbs to dizzying heights.

Shanghai’s two existing airports, Pudong and Hongqiao, saw a combined flow of more than 117 million fliers in 2018, nearing the pair’s full design capacity of 120 million.

Shanghai’s cadres and carriers like China Eastern and Spring Airlines want a future constellation of three airports to push the city to match the aviation heights of New York as a preeminent node for global aviation, where JFK, Newark and LaGuardia in and near New York form a unique synergy and division of services.

Shanghai’s Pudong Airport, built along the city’s seacoast, has five runways and three terminals.
Shanghai’s Hongqiao Airport, with two runways and two terminals, mainly serves domestic flights and features seamless interchange to high-speed trains via a nearby train station. Photos: Google Maps
An overview of Pudong’s two main terminals. Photo: Weibo via feeyo.com
Pudong Airport is the main hub for long-haul routes serving not only Shanghai but other provinces in eastern China. Photo: Xinhua

The Shanghai Securities News revealed earlier this year that the third airport will take shape in Nantong, which borders the Yangtze River estuary north of Shanghai, on a 20 square-kilometer plot for two runways that can handle 50 million passengers per year.

Supporting infrastructure including expressways, express rail links and an assortment of mega bridges and tunnels straddling the Yangtze River will ensure a smooth, door-to-door ride on the metro and high-speed trains from downtown to a check-in hall.

The estimated passenger throughput of the three hubs in Shanghai will hit the 200 million mark in the early 2030s and jump to 230 million by 2035, the paper.com, a Shanghai-based news portal, quoted an official with the Shanghai Airport Authority as saying.

Jiangsu’s provincial government has also prioritized the planning and construction of the new airport in Nantong and stepped up coordination with Shanghai, as a top project promulgated in its annual work report for 2019.

Jiangsu hopes Nantong can ride on the coattails of the new hub and transform itself into a gateway serving Shanghai and its spawning urban area.

Both Nantong and Suzhou in Jiangsu province aim to have their own airports to poach fliers from Shanghai.

But it is also said that the project is far from shovel-ready since the Chinese Civil Aviation Administration has yet to endorse the Nantong location from a number of sites that are also being assessed.

Meanwhile Suzhou, a manufacturing boomtown adjoining Shanghai and the largest city economy in Jiangsu, has also wrapped up a feasibility study for its own airport, with the ultimate goal of stemming part of the outflow of its own fliers to Shanghai.

The city of 10 million also cites alleviating overcrowding at Shanghai’s Pudong and Hongqiao as a key reason for having its own hub.

When cities are locked in a race to launch their own projects, new runways and terminals may become expensive boondoggles void of travelers. Some papers in Shanghai, including the China Business News, have questioned the need for more hubs as the Yangtze River Delta already boasts seven with annual throughputs of 10 million or more and the airspace above them has become increasingly congested.

Also, Shanghai will continue to add capacity to Pudong as the largest hub for long-haul, intercontinental routes serving eastern China. Future projects there include two new terminals and three additional runways to be created via sea reclamation.

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