China has recently opened the massive Beijing Daxing International Airport (PKX) which is expected to initially help decongest the existing Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) but itself is seen to eventually become the world’s busiest gateway.


Located about 46 kilometres south of Tiananmen Square in the far south of Beijing and designed by famed Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, Daxing Airport is anticipated to handle 45 million passengers by 2021, 72 million by 2025 and 100 million by 2040, with initial capacity allowing 300 take-offs and landings per hour.


In terms of cargo, the new airport – which spans 7.5 million square feet, equivalent to about 98 soccer fields and is often dubbed as the “starfish” due to its appearance –is currently the world’s largest terminal in a single building, and is expected to initially handle 2 million tons of cargo annually by 2025 and 4 million tons of freight per year after that.


Specific roles assigned

Daxing will be part of the northern airport cluster of China, joining Beijing Capital, Shijiazhuang Zhengding International Airport in Hebei and Tianjin Binhai International Airport (TBIA), one of the major air cargo centres in China. Tianjin is also the nearest alternative gateway to Capital, some 13 kilometres away.


“There are three main airports regions in China: eastern, southern and northern. Tianjin Binhai is in the northern region. In order to avoid fierce competition among airports in our region, the government has assigned different roles for Beijing, Tianjin and Daxing,” Huanran Xu, deputy general manager of Tianjin Binhai International Airport, told Asia Cargo News on the sidelines of the China Air Cargo Summit 2019.


“Beijing and Daxing both are international hubs for passengers, and Tianjin is the North Asia hub for passengers and an international hub for cargo,” he said.


In his presentation during the summit, Xu said that currently, the three other airports have different characteristics in terms of freight development: 90% of the cargo volume of Beijing Capital Airport is transported by passenger flights’ bellyhold and 10% by all-cargo carriers; at Tianjin Airport, 50% of cargo is transported by bellyhold and 50% by all-cargo carriers; while the cargo at Shijiazhuang Airport is 75% bellyhold and 25% by all-cargo carrier.


“In terms of air cargo development, it is recommended that Beijing Capital Airport and Beijing Daxing Airport rely mainly on passenger aircraft cabins. Tianjin Airport focuses on developing all-cargo carriers to vigorously develop air cargo,” he added.


Partnerships, expansion plans

Under this assignment, Xu said civil aviation authority has extended freighter operations by four hours at Tianjin, operating from 10:00 pm to 8:00 am, while freighters are only allowed to operate at other airports in this region from midnight to 6:00 am.


Tianjin Airport, as it is, has formed a whole aviation industry chain including aircraft assembly, R&D and maintenance ready to service all-cargo airlines.


“We have not seen any influence emerge since Daxing International Airport has opened, mainly because it’s only been two months – September to November,” Xu noted. “We expect the influence will be shown in the second half of 2020 or the first half of 2021.”


To make the airport more competitive, Tianjin will be deepening its partnership with the Tianjin port, the largest port in Northern China and also one of the top 10 largest container ports in the world, to further facilitate seamless freight operations and increase volumes.


“Facing the competition, we plan to enlarge our hinterland area and attract different industry like electronic products and pharmaceutical products to Tianjin, and to work more closely with Tianjin port in order to generate cargo,” Xu said.


“Meanwhile, we are increasing different types of import cargo, like seafood, plants and fruits, and expanding our truck network to Shenzhen, Xian, Chengdu – over 20 cities,” he added.


Last year, 86% of the total cargo volume from the region came from the Beijing Capital Airport, 11% from Tianjin Airport and 2% from Shijiazhuang Airport, but the northern cluster only accounts for 11% of the total cargo volume in China at 241 million tonnes in 2018; the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area accounts for 38% (832 million tonnes) of the volume; the Yangtze River Delta 26% (568 million); and 25% from other airports.


“Instead of wasting resources, reducing prices and fighting for business, we aim to win as a regional airports group. We believe that by playing different roles in the region, each airport will find their own ways for development in the future,” Xu said.


US-China trade war impact

Commenting on the ongoing trade war between the United States and China, Xu said his outlook for the air cargo industry remains bleak for now, and it has heavily affected the gateway’s operation this year.


“As the Sino-US trade war is going on, we believe the global economy will be declining and therefore I am not optimistic about the air cargo industry. During the first nine months of 2019, global air cargo and mail turnover decreased by 3.5%, according to the IATA report,” Xu said.


“Tianjin Binhai International Airport has been affected significantly, as 50% of our cargo is international cargo. Our international cargo is either directly to US by freighter or transits to Incheon or Tokyo. Our cargo handling volume decreased by 20% compared to the same period in 2018,” he said.


The cargo handling volume at Tianjin, however, has already been decreasing during the past three years.


“Our volume was 268,000 tonnes in 2017, 259,000 tonnes in 2018 and will be less than 230,000 tonnes in 2019 no matter how hard we work,” Xu said.


By Charlee C. Delavin

Asia Cargo News | Hong Kong