It’s good times for the US$130-billion-a-year global airport industry, partly thanks to Chinese travellers.
Cheaper fuel and rising Chinese travel helped global airport passenger numbers rise by 5 per cent in the first half of 2015, according to peak body Airports Council International (ACI).
That growth matches the figure for all of 2014.Traffic is booming in mega-hubs such as Tokyo, Dallas/Fort Worth and Dubai, which is the world’s busiest airport in terms of international passengers. The world’s busiest airport overall remains the US super hub of Atlanta, with Beijing gradually catching up.
The biggest airport changes are taking place a level down from the mega hubs.
These second-level airports can now host more direct flights, thanks to planes like Boeing’s new 787, a relatively small yet highly efficient jet. Routes like San Francisco–Chengdu, Toronto–Delhi and Los Angeles–Melbourne have become economic.
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Huge swathes of China are embracing air travel: the CAPA aviation research group expects China will open a further 78 airports by the end of the decade.
The increase is on the back of increasing urbanisation and the swelling numbers among China’s wealthy middle class. Another source of long-term growth is emerging markets, says ACI.
Though frequently pseudo-monopolies, major city airports do face competition in many markets, often from smaller fringe airports or (especially in Europe and China) from high-speed rail. That is helping to focus the industry on better, cheaper customer service. Automated bag drop and bag tracking and less disruptive passenger identification technologies at “smart gates” are predicted to cut queuing times and security hassles in the years ahead.
Consultancies such as Skyscanner and CAP Strategic Research also expect airports to keep attracting better shops and eateries and to add high-end services – galleries, yoga centres and the like – as they seek to boost lucrative non-aeronautical revenue and create an airport “experience” for their wealthier-than-average travellers.
Airports will still need to actually move passengers onto and off planes. Building the infrastructure for more flights with smaller planes means the airport industry’s global investment boom needs to continue.
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