Beijing, Shanghai Airports are World's Fastest Growing

China's Beijing and Shanghai were by far the world's fastest growing major airports for passengers and cargo in 2006, a year that saw booming business in Asia.

Also expanding passenger business fast, although from a much lower base, are India's New Delhi and Mumbai, gateways to Asia's other burgeoning trade power, figures released by ACI, the Geneva-based Airports Council International, showed.

While Atlanta in the United States remained the busiest world airport for passengers with a total of nearly 85 million, its figures were down 1.2 per cent on 2005.

Memphis, US hub for major air cargo services, remained the top freight airport, processing nearly 3.7 million tonnes, but this was just 2.6 per cent more than in 2005.

Beijing, which next year hosts the Olympic Games, saw an 18.3 per cent climb in travellers passing through to a total of 48.5 million, making it the globe's ninth busiest airport, six places up from 2005.

In freight handled, Beijing also saw whopping growth of 31.6 per cent, making it the 20th busiest world cargo airport, while Shanghai, China's top business city, climbed from ninth to sixth place, with freight figures up by 16.3 per cent.

Overall, ACI said, global passenger traffic through domestic and international airports increased by five per cent last year over 2005, and cargo was up by nearly four per cent - figures in line with similar returns from the airlines body IATA.

The Asia-Pacific region as a whole saw the biggest growth in passengers, up 10.3 per cent, against 6.4 per cent in Europe and only 0.7 per cent in North America. The region also led in real terms in cargo, with growth of 7.2 per cent.

Apart from Beijing, only two of the top ten passenger airports recorded significant increases in travellers - Paris in seventh position with nearly 59 million for an increase of 5.6 per cent, and Denver, 10th, with 47.3 million, up 9.1 per cent.

Apart from Shanghai, six more of the top ten cargo airports in 2006 are heavily involved in Asian markets and five of these saw good or very good growth, ranging from 8.7 by Seoul through 5.9 percent by Anchorage to 5.1 per cent by Hong Kong.

Tokyo's Narita in fifth position was an exception, with a drop in cargo volume of 0.5 per cent. However, other top international cargo airports saw good growth - 9.3 per cent at Louisville and 8.4 per cent at Frankfurt.

Meanwhile, China's aviation industry could expand by up to ten per cent above current growth rates if central controls were eased, the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation said.

"Double-digit air traffic growth is a certainly possible in an economy growing by 8-10 per cent annually, but controls over fares, routes, aircraft purchases, airport charges, fuel supply and distribution services are keeping China's aviation market from achieving its full potential," CAPA's executive chairman Peter Harbison cautioned.

Total domestic deregulation was attempted in the mid 1990's with disastrous results on airline profitability. The report said it was doubtful that China's out-dated and over-burdened airport and air traffic management infrastructure could cope with growth rates much above current levels. "An unfortunate by-product of these controls is that they may delay the advent of genuine domestic LCCs (low-cost carriers) in China's market until the end of the decade," Mr Harbison said.

But he noted that while 2006 was a challenging year financially for China's major airlines, the outlook for earnings for the entire sector is much better this year due to lower fuel prices.



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