New airports in China

By Bryan • blog, china, environment, nanjing, personal • 17 Jun 2008

It would appear that the Chinese government remains confident regarding the price and uninterrupted supply of oil…as well as very bullish about future airline passenger numbers.

China drafted a long-term plan for development of air cargo, which will require the building of 97 new airports, consolidation of smaller airports and upgrading of certain key airports by the year 2020. The entire project will cost the government a massive investment of $64 billion.

Under the plan, 97 feeder-line airports will be built across the country, the main air hubs will be upgraded, and airport clusters will be set up in the northern, eastern, central, southern, southwestern and northwestern parts of the country, according to the new Ministry of Transport.

The ministry, which was formed on March 24, encompasses all the state entities related to road, sea and air traffic. It is evolved from the former Ministry of Communications and the General Administration of the Civil Aviation of China.

By the end of 2006, the Chinese mainland had 147 airports with 45 of them serving both military and civilian traffic.

I’m a huge proponent of infrastructure development as a key engine of economic development but I find it odd that within the current fossil-fuel price environment (some analysts are predict that the possibility of $200/barrel oil in the very near future, is very, very likely) that this massive airport infrastructure program would be pushed ahead.

I guess the key verb in the article is ‘earmarked’ as I suppose this indicates that money will be allocated to various projects as seen fit, rather than just a massive funding blitz, but still…the number of new/refurbished airports is quite large.  I still feel that outside of the major international terminals in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing, most Chinese airports seem to be underutilized…to my observations at least.  Lukou in Nanjing (with the exception of the massive backlog during this winters snowstorm) always seems about a quarter-full every time I fly out and that goes for the other regional hubs that I’ve flown into/out of (Chengdu, Kunming, Xi’an…even Shenzhen didn’t seem too busy).

I suppose the idea is that they are currently underutilized, but they will fill up quickly as more and more people discover the convenience of air-travel.  But that is built on the assumption that air-travel will remain affordable for your average Zhang Joe.  I mean, that is the big question mark isn’t it?  Major airlines around the world are taking big beatings with oil price hikes.  China still subsidizes oil imports considerable in a effort to maintain social stability and curb inflation…but in effect creates what one article (can’t cite, forgotton the link) referred to as a bubble country running on $80/barrel insulated against the realities of an $140/barrel world.  More cars, more air-travel.  But, you don’t need to be a economist to realize that this isn’t the best combo if oil prices do indeed maintain their climb.

David Beers, who wrote the very good Blue Sky Dream (which influenced my decision to enter urban planning -although it really isn’t about that at all) muses and contemplates a world without cheap air transport over at The Walrus:

Could it happen? As the potential ravages of global warming come more solidly into view, jet travel has been fingered as a dangerous emitter of greenhouse gases. And now the price of oil is said by various experts to be headed toward $200 (US) a barrel within the year, maybe five, a sign for many that we’ve entered a new age of fossil fuel scarcity. What if we come to decide jet travel has become too polluting to risk our children’s future? Or just far too expensive to continue flying the kids to Disneyland?  And if a million such decisions were to cause the jet age to end, how would we come back to earth? Softly, one would hope. Pleasantly. But maybe, instead, it will be a white-knuckle crash.

Read it all.

Personally, rising oil prices are kicking me in the balls.  Shipping a cubic meter of stuff back to Canada is well…lets say I could have a nice month long vacation in Nepal for what I’m about to pay.

On the plus side, even with the price increase of anything running on black dead organic matter, I’m quite happy I’ll be doing my travels now…and not in six months.

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