International air traffic at mainland Chinese airports (including routes to/from Hong Kong/Macau) slipped by 4.4% to 37.9m in 2008, while domestic air traffic continued to rise 5.3% to 368m.
In total, all Mainland Chinese airports handled 405.8m passengers last year, up 4.7% on 2007, although overall air traffic growth slowed considerably on the 16.7% growth recorded in 2007. Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport was Mainland China's outstanding performer in 2008, with passenger traffic rebounding more quickly than at its two bigger rivals, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).
In its recent analysis of the market the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) notes that 2008 was a difficult year for China's airports and it predicts that 2009 will be no different, although it expects that global financial pressures will take more of the blame this year than the domestic disturbances that disrupted traffic last year.
Certainly there will be more focus on reducing losses. CAAC Vice Minister, Yang Guoqin has announced that China's aviation industry – including both airports and airlines – posted a loss of CNY.28bn ($4.1bn) in 2008 – the largest loss in 30 years.
More positvely, CAPA adds that it should not go unnoticed that China's passenger air traffic passed the 400m mark last year and International Air Transport Association Director General Giovanni Bisignani actually believes that China could be one of the first countries to emerge from the global economic crisis.
However, CAPA is also quick to point out that CAAC Vice Minister Yang is having none of it, saying that until there is some tangible sign of a real recovery, then the Chinese aviation industry will just have to make the best of it.
He has stated that despite the global downturn, investment in airport construction, predominantly at regional airports, should be increased in 2009, to improve the country's transport network and promote local economic development. He also added that overseas construction, investment and cooperation must also be enhanced, to boost international aviation development in China.
In its excellent analysis, CAPA says that after a difficult start to 2008 with devastating snow-storms, Guangzhou Airport bounced back more strongly than its main rivals Beijing and Shanghai, where security restrictions surrounding the Olympic Games and the economic downturn had more of an impact on traffic.
[Last year it handled 33.4m passengers, servicing more than 39 international and 114 domestic air routes, plus two regional services. Guangzhou also handled around 2m international passengers, with flights to Japan, South Korea, Southeast Asia, the United States and Europe].
As reported already, Guangzhou Airport is currently tendering several new retail and F&B stores over a total area of 8,000sq m of commercial space within its new domestic east and west concourses, although the airport operates its own duty free liquor and tobacco contract in-house and the China Duty Free Group holds the five-year contract to operate the perfume and cosmetics and fashion business.
Guangdong is now China's fastest developing province and Guangzhou Baiyun Airport is used by a large number of business travellers. The new east and west concourses are due to open in October 2009, covering a total area of 150,000sq m. The airport has earmarked 3,800sq m for branded stores, 2,200sq m for F&B and 1,700sq m for other retail stores.
CAPA adds that other strong performers in terms of passenger growth included Sanya and Haikou on Hainan Island, where traffic rebounded after a depressed performance in 2007, as well as Dalian in the north and Nanjing, near Shanghai.
[The Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation has maintained an extensive Chinese airport traffic database which stretches back more than ten years. Those interested can contact the company at [email protected] for more information].