Haikou Meilan International Airport, the main gateway to China’s southernmost province of Hainan, is close to wrapping up its 17.8 billion yuan (US$2.54 billion) expansion in the country’s biggest free-trade port and duty-free shopping zone.
The airfield’s capacity will be doubled to receive 45 million passengers and 600,000 tonnes of cargo every year by 2035, according to Meilan’s spokesman. An Airbus A380 operated by China Southern Airlines and a Boeing 737-800 by Hainan Airlines from Guangzhou to Haikou will land on August 1 in the expanded airfield as the test flight, the airfield’s spokesman said.
The trial flight and the completion of Meilan’s expansion would be a boon for the island province dubbed “China’s Hawaii,” increasing its capacity to receive the 90 million duty-free shoppers, holidaymakers, pensioners and business travellers – according to the local authorities’ plans – who visit the tropical island.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
The airport is a key part of Hainan’s blue print to become China’s largest free-trade zone by 2020 and a free-trade port by 2025, helping to connect the world’s second-largest economy with the rest of the world especially nations along its Belt and Road Initiative.
“Hainan as a free trade port will have three focal points – international tourism, trade, and modern services, which all need transport support especially from aviation,” said Lin Zhijie of the state-run Aviation Think Tank. “Otherwise it will still be an island targeting domestic travellers.”
As many as 83.14 million people visited Hainan in 2019, of which 1.42 million came from overseas, according to the Hainan government. One in every five foreign visitor to Hainan, or 280,000 of them, came from Russia, making up the biggest group of international arrivals.
The tropical island and its sandy beaches had for decades been the favourite winter escape for Russian travellers. In cities like Sanya, street signs carry the Cyrillic script as the second default language instead of the Pinyin seen in other Chinese cities.
Around 280,000 Russians travelled to the tropical island in 2019, according to World Without Borders, a travel association established by Russian tour operators, that means 19.7 per cent of foreign visitors in Hainan came from Russia.
Meilan’s expansion work started in 2016, including the highest-grade 4F Class airfield with a 3,600-metre (11,800 feet) runway capable of landing an Airbus A380, the largest passenger aircraft in service, capable of carrying as many as 853 passengers in a single-class configuration. China Southern is the only carrier in the country to fly the superjumbo aircraft.
“Upgrading the runway to 4F will attract more airlines to fly through or to Hainan from Europe, Americas and Middle East,” said Qi Qi, an associate professor at Guangzhou Civil Aviation College. “The importance of Meilan not only lies in the runway, but the new terminal buildings, aprons, new commercial facilities and duty-free shops, they are all integrated.”
A 4F Class runway will relieve the capacity crunch of Meilan, Lin said, noting that business-class domestic fares to Hainan from other Chinese cities cost as much as 70,000 yuan (US$10,000) during the peak winter season, when Chinese holidaymakers escape the country’s frigid north.
“It is beneficial for the tourism industry in Hainan to enhance the capacity of Meilan airport, and tackle the bottleneck for development,” Lin said.
The expansion work includes a second terminal building with 296,000 square metres, capable of handling up to 10 million international passengers annually.
Meilan plans to go through industry verification and receive an airport use permit licence in August and September, it told the SCMP. It aims to apply for more certifications to qualify it as an international cargo port, reducing the transition time of passengers and cargo.
Purchase the 120+ page China Internet Report 2020 Pro Edition, brought to you by SCMP Research, and enjoy a 30% discount (original price US$400). The report includes deep-dive analysis, trends, and case studies on the 10 most important internet sectors. Now in its 3rd year, this go-to source for understanding China tech also comes with exclusive access to 6+ webinars with C-level executives, including Charles Li, CEO of HKEX, James Peng, CEO/founder of Pony.ai, and senior executives from Alibaba, Huawei, Kuaishou, Pinduoduo, and more. Offer valid until 31 August 2020. To purchase, please click here.
More from South China Morning Post:
- China creates Hainan special health care zone to tap growing medical tourism market
- China’s Hainan free-trade port plan off to fast start as duty-free shopping soars in first week
- China bets on Hainan duty-free shopping mecca to boost spending at home
- Chinese gourmets rescue New Zealand lobster export trade, with reopening of restaurants bringing surge in shipments
- China’s Hainan free-trade port plan draws approval, and scepticism, as questions linger over implementation