Wings of Asia

fly_graphic.jpgAviation industry in Asia is booming. The continent with a population of more than three billion people is the world’s fastest growing aviation market. Recent data shows that the numbers of passengers are expected to grow at a rate of 8% per year over the next five years. Industry experts have predicted that by the end of 2025 the aviation market of Asia will become the world’s largest in terms of passenger travel and freight as well.

India and China are pioneers of this aviation growth. China’s airports are already handling nearly 300 million passengers per annum and air traffic is estimated to surge almost 10% per annum. China’s booming manufacturing sector and the growth of domestic consumer markets has led to similar growth in air cargo.

The increasing air traffic makes the need for infrastructure to be developed at par. This is the reason for the immediate capacity expansion plans across Asia. Infact in Asia the infrastructure is being developed ahead of the demand while in Europe progress only happens as a result of excessive demand. Countries in Asia are feeling the need and can envision the advantages of airport extensions. These countries can now compare that the investment in infrastructure and especially in aviation being minimal to the potential benefits to be reaped.

The Chinese government has planned huge investment and modernization for the airports. Currently an $18bn investment programme is under way, an important element of the five-year plan to get airports on the East coast in shape for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2010 Expo in Shanghai.

While the Chinese government controls airport development, it permits foreign investment in airports with stakes of up to 49%, while the Civil Aviation Authority of China continues to administer fees and handle air traffic control issues. The story in India is similar. In India the government is encouraging private investment into airports and has handed over operations, management and development of major airports to private consortiums.

The blueprints of such modernization and expansion of Asian airports show that in the years to come, developed countries outside Asia will have a tough time to catch up with them. Currently China is not only building the largest dam – Three Gorges, the world’s longest bridge – from Ningbo to Shanghai, but also the world’s biggest airport in time for the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Singapore Airlines which operates a hub in Singapore Changi was the first airline to secure orders for the newly launched A380. Other airlines like Qantas and Emirates had both placed orders for the A380 early on. It is believed that Singapore Airlines needs big aircraft that carry lots of passengers at once, much more so than perhaps the European airlines.

The need of Singapore Airlines’ operating A380 quickly was matched by Changi airport’s quick extension and immediate development of the required infrastructure. The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore reportedly spent more than $40 m in upgrading its terminals. The upgrades started about three years ago. Works included widening of the runways as the engines of the A380 are quite far apart and the risk of debris ingestion had to be limited. New gates have been built, baggage belt carousels extended and seating added to departure lounges to serve the A380.

Asia is making joint effort to expand its wing and fly out into new skies and make the world take note of the speed with which all the countries in Asia are gearing up to take the runway to become the world’s most powerful economic hub.

Namit Agarwal