Chengdu, capital of the Sichuan province in south-western China, is not a name on the lips of many in the West, yet it is home to more than 14 million people.
Moreover, it is an economic powerhouse, with over 200 of the world's Fortune 500 companies represented in the city, and a fast-growing economy that has been described by the World Bank as an engine of economic development in the west of the country.
Sound investment in airport infrastructure has ensured that transportation and logistics do not present a bottleneck in the economic vitality of the city and wider region. Passenger numbers at Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport (CDIA) have increased sixfold in the past decade - a growth trend that looks likely to continue.
CDIA aviation marketing department manager Yan Yuhua explains how the airport is keeping pace with this dizzying rate of expansion.
Mark Brierley: CDIA has recently expanded its runway and terminal facilities. How does the airport plan to expand its route network in order to make use of this extra capacity?
Yan Yuhua: Covering an area of 14,000 Chinese mu (equivalent to 930ha), CDIA has two parallel runways. The west runway is a 4E class runway, 3,600m long and 45m wide, and is equipped with an instrument landing system (ILS). The east runway is a 4F runway also equipped with an ILS. Being 3,600m long and 60m wide, it can handle the Airbus A380.
Terminal One (T1) covers an area of 138,000m2 with ancillary services such as international and domestic transfer services, VIP rooms, banking, restaurants, shopping and entertainment. Planning is underway for a second terminal (T2) covering 340,000m2 to provide further service facilities, including five-star and three-star hotels. CDIA will be able to meet a passenger throughput of more than 50 million when T2 is put into operation.
With wise use of these new facilities, coupled with our regional advantages and existing networking, CDIA is cooperating with the government and many airlines to open regular passenger and cargo routes to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US; more international routes to emerging destinations such as the Nordic countries, Africa and South-East Asia; and to develop routes to Europe and the Middle East. We are now perfecting our network in order to meet our strategic target of building the fourth-largest air hub in China.
With such a rapid rise in passenger numbers, aircraft movements and cargo tonnage over the past few years, do you foresee further airport expansion in the mid-term?
The passenger throughput was 4.52 million in 2000 and exceeded ten million in 2004, before increasing to more than 20 million in 2009 and 25.80 million in 2010 - an average annual growth rate of 10% since 2004. The 2011 passenger throughput was 29.07 million, and the cargo throughput 477,700t, making Chengdu the fifth-largest Chinese airport and the fourth-largest in mainland China.
Even with such rapid development, CDIA still places great importance on security and service. We have named 2012 the year to enhance our service quality and are officially joining the Airport Service Quality general assessment system of civil aviation this year.
This is the year for us to focus on our execution ability, see the results of our meticulous management and start working towards getting CDIA a place among the world's top ten airports. With the constant improvement of facilities at CDIA, we will try our best to give airlines and passengers more convenient and safer services.
Domestic passengers currently make up the majority of the airport's passengers; what plans are there for long-haul international expansion?
As the most important provincial capital city in the central and western region of China, Chengdu is an active economic power that possesses a profound historical and cultural heritage, enjoys rich natural resources and has a large population. In 2011, Chengdu's GDP of 685.46 billion yuan attracted world-renowned electronic information corporations such as Dell, Lenovo, Compal, Wistron, Texas Electronic and Foxconn to set up bases here. With several big investment projects, Chengdu realised more than 241 billion yuan in imports and exports.
CDIA's 2011 domestic passenger throughput was 27.64 million. Long-haul and regional passenger throughput, however, reached 1.43 million. As Chengdu builds its economic core through the implementation of five different strategies, which include 'Transportation First', CDIA will cooperate with the government, tourism agencies and other relevant departments to advocate Chengdu to foreign markets, and promote the economic development, culture, history and natural resources of the city using the bridge of its sister cities and CDIA's sister airports.
CDIA will also help the city's existing consultants and embassies, including those of the US, Germany, France, Thailand, Singapore, Korea, Pakistan, Philippine and Sri Lanka, to promote Chengdu to the world, attracting more international friends with which to study and do business. At the same time, more of Chengdu's young people can fly overseas from CDIA to carry out marketing activities.
How does CDIA work with airlines to grow its route offering? And what is the airport operator-airline dynamic like?
As the largest air hub in central and western China, CDIA actively and positively cooperates with airlines in several ways, such as by providing environmental analysis, air transportation studies and relevant data, and by establishing a marketing strategy. Taking objective factors such as the market cultivation period into account, CDIA will cut down some fees or provide subsidies for airlines when opening new routes. This will cultivate new markets and attract new airlines and passengers.
CDIA's partnership with airlines is intensive and dynamic. For airports and airlines, the passenger is god, and airlines are always on the look-out for airport facilities and services to transport passengers safely and quickly. At the same time, airports need to cooperate with airlines to build their routes network. In this way, airports and airlines can reap mutual benefits by working together.
Are you finding that tourism authorities are also increasingly courting airports and airlines as a means of expanding routes?
Tourism is a great way to show off the image of the city. Most of the international routes that Chengdu has recently opened are tourist-related. CDIA handled 1,020 inbound charter flights in 2011 - up by 316% on 2010 - while outbound charter passengers increased by 444%. Routes to the Maldives and Phuket in Thailand are so popular that their growth rates are 100% above our annual average.
Tourism authorities play an important role in attracting airports and developing new routes. As people's standard of living improves, more intend to fly further afield on holiday. CDIA has a close partnership with the tourism departments of Chengdu and Sichuan, Chengdu Culture and Tourism Development Group, and other tourism associations to develop tourist resources in Chengdu and links abroad, with the aim of forming a virtuous cycle that will attract more airlines to develop new routes.