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China's airport construction takes off (3)

By Zheng Yangpeng (China Daily)

08:38, November 27, 2012

According to the Shanxi statistics bureau, 80 percent of the province's passengers use the provincial capital's airport. This means that the other six airports will have to share the remaining 20 percent of traffic.

But few of the officials in these areas seem to take heed of this fact.

Dong's words reflect a recurring narrative among officials in most hinterland cities: that airports are needed to be prosperous, and that they will boost local GDP and create many business opportunities in commerce, tourism, logistics and real estate by cutting travel times.

"You cannot consider airports as isolated businesses," said Zou Jianjun, a professor at the Civil Aviation Management Institute of China. "Why not see them as public utilities like highways or a sewage system? Airports may benefits to the local economy."

China's airports are built and run by local governments, just like public utilities. And the governments are obliged to pay operators for any losses.

In 2011, local governments had to pay on average 15 million yuan for loss-making airports, according to a CAAC report.

But to many local officials, the sum is insignificant compared with the many huge business opportunities that they envision.

An official in Fuyang, Anhui province, said that, although the local government paid 60 million yuan for the city's airport, the overall dividends now amount to 600 million yuan.

Ten years ago, flocks of hens strolled on the idle runway, as lackluster traffic flow forced the airport to close. But now, Fuyang airport is seeing a steady rise in passengers.

In 2009, passenger flow was just 17,666, but the next year it jumped to 110,000.

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