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Air Traffic Grows/Airports Expand/ Middle East and Asia Have Strong Air Traffic, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

Prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, many of the world’s major airports had massive long-term expansion plans—some of which have now been delayed by years.  A second Beijing Airport, Daxing, opened in September 2019.  The $11.3 billion facility has four runways in its first phase, and an annual capacity of 40 million passengers initially, increasing to 70 million by 2025.  Much more than just an airport is planned for Daxing.  An additional $13 to $14 billion will be invested in creating a massive economic and industrial region, to be centered on the airport.
In another major development within China, the Dalian Aeropolis region is planned, with logistics facilities, research and development parks, industrial areas and exhibition halls centered on a major airport.  Dalian’s New Airport Zone will be divided into eight main areas, each with distinct characteristics, to co-exist and connect harmoniously to create a balanced residential and economic zone.  The site includes the new airport, a central business district directly linked with the new high-speed train from Dalian to Harbin, a research business park, urban and modern living spaces, along with a variety of green leisure spaces and marine developments along the shore.  The Dalian airport will have the capacity to handle 25 million passengers per year.  As many as 2.6 million people are forecast to live in its proximity by 2025.
In Shanghai, air traffic has grown so rapidly that a new $3 billion, 83-gate terminal opened in September 2019.  Airports in Guangzhou and Shenzhen will each add a third runway.
Meanwhile, Dubai’s facility is benefiting from the fact that it is the home of Emirates Airlines, which is investing heavily in aircraft acquisition and international route expansion.  Dubai operates as a hub for flights to many parts of the world.
Dubai Airport’s $4.5 billion Terminal 3 opened in late 2008.  A further expansion of the new terminal, which opened in 2012, makes it the world’s largest building with regard to floor space at 16.1 million square feet.  It can accommodate 23 Airbus A380s.  Another enormous new airport located nearby in the Jebel Ali area of Dubai, the $80 billion Al Maktoum International, began cargo operations in mid-2010, and when it opens for passenger traffic in the 2030, it is expected to be the world’s largest airport with five parallel runways and an annual passenger capacity of 160 million.  Nearby Abu Dhabi, home to Etihad Airways, is building a $3.2 billion Midfield Terminal airport project originally expected to open in 2017 but was delayed.  After suffering from regional financial uncertainty in late 2019 and then the onset of the Coronavirus in 2020, the project will likely be pushed back beyond 2030.
A new, third runway has been proposed for Heathrow, causing great controversy among neighbors over potential noise and air pollution.  It is estimated that the runway could be in operation by 2029, enabling 260,000 additional landings yearly.  However, it remains to be seen whether or not it will ever be built.  Other options under consideration include adding a new, second runway to nearby Gatwick Airport, adding on to other London-area airports, or perhaps building an entirely new airport to replace Heathrow, which is very unlikely.
Private airport management companies are largely responsible for airport renovation and expansion.  Notable firms include Aeroports de Paris SA, which is overseeing improvements to both Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports serving Paris, and Schiphol Group, which is in charge of the airport in Amsterdam.
Some airports are sporting a wide range of new amenities, including walking paths, yoga rooms, private sleeping areas, medical clinics and improved food venues.  The highest-rated airports, according to Skytrax, are Singapore Changi, Seoul Incheon and Munich Airport.  Singapore Changi offers passengers five different gardens, a 3D electronics zone and the world’s tallest indoor slide at 12 meters (four stories) and the world’s highest artificial waterfall, all combined in the $1.2 billion Jewel Changi complex.  Seoul Incheon has a 330-yard golf driving range.  Munich Airport offers a recreation area, a luxury Thai restaurant with life-sized elephant statues and a five-star hotel with a tree-lined bar.
U.S. airports are also investing in improvements, but on a far less extensive scale.  Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, for example, has a public yoga studio at the end of Terminal D equipped with exercise mats and instructional videos.  Indianapolis International Airport offers three walking paths with signage regarding distance and average numbers of steps, two inside security and one near the ticketing area.  San Francisco International Airport has a medical clinic that offers vaccinations for overseas travel, as well as treatment of symptoms of colds and allergies.  For the most part, major, international American airports remain far behind the leading airports of Asia in design and amenities.
Boarding gates are also getting upgrades in a number of airports.  Concession company OTG Management spent $15 million to renovate waiting areas near boarding gates in Terminal D and in Terminal C in New York’s La Guardia airport.  Instead of uncomfortable rows of seats, the areas now have tall seats and barstool height counters with plenty of power outlets and iPads, on which flyers can enter flight numbers to check statuses, play games and surf the internet.  The key for OTG Management is that the iPads are also used to place orders for food and drink from nearby vendors, which is delivered right to the flyer’s seat.
New high-tech gadgets and systems are rapidly bringing airports of the future into being, particularly in Europe and Asia.  For example, at London’s Gatwick Airport, beacons placed throughout the terminal identify passengers’ smartphones and transmit GPS-based directions to assigned gates, including information about food and shopping venues along the way.  San Francisco International Airport has 350 of the beacons installed in its Terminal 2.  American Airlines is installing the beacons also at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.  In a similar vein, Virgin Atlantic’s London lounge and Cathay Pacific’s San Francisco lounge have beacons that recognize members as they enter and offer information about available food and drinks.
Even more futuristic is Dusseldorf’s airport park in Germany, where robots park cars and move them to designated spots when the drivers return.  Vehicles are moved by the robots (which lift cars and trucks by the wheels) when drivers are not due back soon, to less convenient locations for storage, and then return them in time for pickup.  SITA reports that the robots have increased garage capacity by 32% in the year they have been in operation.


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