For a couple of years now, speculation has floated around regarding Shanghai’s proposed third airport. While there’s not a lot of official information on any new airport, media reports suggest the 20 square-kilometer airport will likely be located at Haimen in Nantong, north of Shanghai, and able to handle 50 million passengers annually.
Informal advice from Chinese Government officials is that the new airport will have two runways and associated express road and rail infrastructure linking the airport to Shanghai.
An informal announcement nearly four years ago
The speculation about Shanghai’s third airport is based on comments made in 2017 by Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) East China Regional Administration director Jiang Huaiyu. At the Asian Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition in April 2017, Mr Huaiyu said;
“In addition to its existing capacity, Shanghai is in need of another international airport that is equivalent to one-and-a-half times the size of Hongqiao airport and a large general aviation airport.
“The market potential of Shanghai’s business aviation is huge, where we’ve seen more than 20% year-on-year growth in the sector during the past few years.”
Between them, Shanghai’s existing two airports, Pudong and Hongqiao, can handle 120 million passengers a year. In 2019, the two airports handled around 117 million passengers – close to capacity. Passenger traffic at the two airports grew nearly 6% over 2019.
“So it is necessary for Shanghai to have an independent airport handling business and general aviation,” Jiang Huaiyu added.
A third Shanghai airport will focus on general aviation
By the standards of contemporary Chinese mega projects, an airport capable of handling just 50 million passengers a year is a tiddler. But it seems any new airport at Nantong won’t be handling China Southern A380s. The bulk of commercial airline traffic will stick to the current two airports. Any new airport will handle general aviation, business traffic (private jets), overflow traffic, and may yet end up as a freight hub.
The idea of sending general aviation and business traffic away from the busy airports in China isn’t new. In the last five years, China was on track to built around 200 new general aviation airports.
In 2019, news outlet Nikkei Asia estimated there were 1000 private jets based in China with compound annualized growth rates of about 9%. While many of China’s biggest and busiest airports don’t generally allow such aircraft, the problem for those airports that do is that a private jet carrying four people takes up a slot pair that could be given to an A380 carrying 400 people. At big, busy airports like Pudong, general aviation and business traffic is an inefficient use of the airport’s resources.
No official word from the Chinese Government
To date, there has been no official announcement regarding the construction of the third airport in Shanghai. No construction work has begun nor is there a timeline. In the 20 months since word leaked regarding the proposed third new airport, conditions have changed in China. The economic environment is tightening, both within China and across the region. There has also been a significant downturn in passenger traffic in 2020 through Shanghai’s big two airports. That may reduce the need to construct a new airport as quickly as the Chinese Government previously anticipated.