The Pearl River Delta’s Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport is eying closer ties with Europe in a bid to boost its position as an international transport hub, as year-by-year its numbers creep closer to that of its Hong Kong neighbour.
Emboldened by the success of China Southern’s Guangzhou-Changsha-Frankfurt service it began last year, the move to woo more European and other international carriers speaks of Guangzhou’s implicit desire to unseat Hong Kong as the reigning passenger and cargo hub.
But a number of factors figure into the mix, including efficiency and connectivity in Hong Kong, but also land constraints along side rising efficiency on the mainland Chinese side.
Chief among the obstacles facing Hong Kong are physical space constraints leading to traffic bottlenecks. Although the much delayed third runway is scheduled to be online by 2020 the average arrival delay will rise to roughly 90 minutes, while the departure queue will stretch to 44.17 flights, from 20 minutes and 7.79 respectively in 2015.
Cargo is of course somewhat less impacted because of its greater tolerance in terms of timing, but freighters too will be and have already been impacted by the growing congestion in Hong Kong. This means each and every move by the neighbouring airports in Shenzhen and particularly Guangzhou pose an increasing threat to Hong Kong.
The rise of e-commerce and the growth of Chinese express carriers like SF Express and YTO Express, to name only two, \are also an important consideration. The Hong Kong Airport Authority’s move to create an e-commerce logistics facility at the airport, to be built and operated by a Chinese consortium led by Alibaba logistic affiliate Cainiao along with the China National Aviation Corporation (Group) Ltd and YTO Express is testament to this.
Indeed Hong Kong’s long-running adeptness and efficiency in both passenger and cargo handling cannot be underestimated, nor can China’s appetite for doing it themselves.
Earlier this year in late-April the Guangzhou Baiyun airport opened a second 880,700 sqm passenger terminal with a capacity of 45 million passengers a year. The airport handled some 65.86 million passengers last year, trailing Hong Kong’s 72.86 million, but continuing, year-by-year, to narrow that gap.
This makes it China’s third-busiest (behind Beijing Capital (98.4 million) and Shanghai Pudong (71.8 million)) and the world’s 13th-busiest airport.
On the cargo front, Guangzhou Baiyun handled 1.78 million tonnes in 2017, up 7.8 per cent year-on-year putting it far from Hong Kong’s global lead of 5.06 million tonnes and placing the southern Chinese airport in 18th place globally.
Following additional phases of development, the airport will be transformed into a five-runway, three-terminal operation that can handle 62,000 flights, 100 million passengers and 3.5 million tonnes of cargo a year by 2025.
While it may still be lagging its more established Hong Kong neighbour, Guangzhou Baiyun clearly has its sights on overtaking HKIA. The passenger side will be a simpler task than cargo, but as logistics capabilities grow this too may one day be an area where Guangzhou Baiyun challenges its neighbouring rival. Let’s not forget where much of this cargo comes from, particularly consumer electronics
But connectivity is still on Hong Kong’s side and until CAN ups its game on this front, Hong Kong surely has nothing to worry about.
Guangzhou is hopeful that air routes will help achieve win-win progress through global cooperation, said Chen Zhiying, executive vice mayor of Guangzhou. In doing so, he says, “we can increase connectivity and have industry resources clustered around, which further fuels the urban economic growth across the globe,” Chen says.
The city is hosting the 24th World Route Development Forum next month and hopes to leverage the event and the nearly 200 global airlines that will be present, to promote the Guangzhou hub.
The Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN) currently has over 300 air routes, 157 of which are international, and offered flights to 220 destinations across the world. As of July 2018, there are eight destinations in North America, 11 in Europe, five in Africa, eight in Oceania and 54 in Asia (including Hong Kong and Taiwan).
The airport also supports the Guangzhou Airport Economic Zone, home to 11,728 enterprises, which fall into the category of five airport-related industries: Aircraft maintenance and conversion, logistics, cross-border e-commerce, aviation headquarters and aircraft leasing.
Baiyun Airport serves as a hub for China Southern Airlines, 9 Air, Hainan Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines and FedEx Express which operates its APAC Hub out of the airport.
Recent additions on the cargo side include FedEx Express which enhanced its Vietnam services with the introduction of a new four-times weekly B757 freighter flight connecting Hanoi to its Guangzhou APAC Hub in late-July.
And also in July, Lufthansa Cargo increased its maindeck services to Guangzhou from four to five flights weekly.
And earlier this month, Ethiopian Airlines announced the start a B777-200 freighter operation between Norway’s Avinor Oslo Airport (OSL) and Baiyun Airport from September, targeting the growing perishables trade between the two countries.
Also in August, Yusen Logistics has launched an emergency express service targeting air freight arriving through the airport.
“As world’s second largest aviation market, China is still expanding its share. It is expected to be the world’s busiest market of air transportation by 2034. Guangzhou is playing an integral part of the market, be it at home or abroad,” said Katie Bland, who’s in charge of operating the World Route Development Forum.