|Airplanes taxi at Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport in 2011. Zhang Bin / for China Daily|
The Pearl River Delta is one of the most congested parts of China's airspace, with five major airports in the region, and none of them more than 200 kilometers apart from each other.
That's a rare situation in the world, industry insiders said.
Yet, the region has a new runway under construction, another runway approved, and a new airport under consideration.
Civil aviation experts worried that the soon-to-be-added facilities will worsen congestion problems, given that only a small part of the Chinese airspace is for civil use, and called for a reform of the airspace management mechanism.
The new runway under construction at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport came after the National Development and Reform Commission approved the expansion plans in July.
The expansion project - which also includes plans for a new terminal and two more runways - aims to prepare the facility to handle 80 million passengers a year by 2020, up from 45 million passengers last year.
Guangzhou has been appointed as one of the country's three main international aviation gateways, according to the country's 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15). The capital city of South China's Guangdong province will mainly connect Oceania and Southeast Asia.
Guangzhou's plans have clearly put pressure on Hong Kong International Airport, currently the busiest airport in the region. It handled 54 million passengers and 3.97 million tons of cargo last year.
As a way to secure the airport's leading position in the region, the Hong Kong government has this year agreed in principle to a third runway, though some industry insiders believe that the runway won't be ready for use until 2023.
Meanwhile, media reports said that Guangzhou is mulling a new airport in the Nansha New Area, a State-level development zone.
The city's leadership believes that Nansha needs an airport to increase its appeal to investors, said Ouyang Jie, a professor at the Civil Aviation University of China who specializes in airport studies.
"Otherwise, air passengers, upon their arrival at Guangzhou Baiyun airport, will have to travel through crowded downtown Guangzhou in order to get to Nansha, which is situated at the southernmost edge of Guangzhou," he said.
City officials also believe that because Nansha is at the geographical center of the Pearl River Delta region, the new airport will be able to cover the population of the whole region, which the Baiyun airport, located at the north of city, is unable to do, Ouyang added.
Experts are not optimistic about the future of a second airport in Guangzhou, though.
"If the military and the local government cannot reach a consensus and expand the airspace for civil use, the second-airport project cannot possibly be approved," said Li Kun, a researcher with the Comprehensive Transport Institute, which is affiliated with the National Development and Reform Commission.
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