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China's airport construction takes off (4)

By Zheng Yangpeng (China Daily)

08:38, November 27, 2012

Zou, a supporter of the airport construction boom, said that if an airport is designed scientifically, it will have a positive effect on the local economy, regardless of its size.

"Two preconditions are critical when planning a new airport: the prosperity of the local economy, and abundant resources like mining, agricultural or tourism resources. If these conditions cannot be met, then an airport can hardly make a profit," Zou said.

Zhang Qihuai, an aviation researcher with the China University of Political Science and Law, said that sufficient passenger flow is essential to an airport. But the problem is that the poorer a city is - which means low passenger flow - the more the local officials will be in a hurry to build an airport, which is why most money-losing airports are in central and western China.

"Running an airport is not only about building an airport. It's much more about funding, management, coordination with airlines, and qualified staff. Most feeder airports simply don't have these things," Zhang said.

The current scenario is that local governments tend to be overoptimistic about traffic flow estimates when submitting proposed airport construction projects.

Excessive optimism often leads to over-sized runways and terminals, and eventually, huge losses.

"Airport design projects do need certain forward-looking characteristics. But local governments should also be realistic about the airports' prospects," said Zou. "Unfortunately, most local officials prefer large-scale projects, it's like they are ashamed to build a small airport."

In some cases, the hastily built airports also pose safety issues.

In 2010, an airplane crashed when trying to land at the Yichun Airport, Heilongjinag province, killing 42 people.

The investigations that followed revealed that the airport had not been approved by the relevant authorities.

"We should learn from the Yichun accident: Reckless building projects can not only lead to financial losses, but also to grim security consequences," Zhang said.

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