The Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA) is poised to establish a world-class airport cluster, an ambition underpinned by substantial growth in passenger traffic and a strategic development plan aimed at enhancing air travel and cargo throughput capacities, according to policy documents released by provincial and central governments and an analysis piece put together this week by the People’s Daily.
In 2023, the GBA’s cumulative passenger traffic reached approximately 180 million, signaling a recovery and setting the stage for future expansion. Key airports in the region, including Hong Kong International Airport, Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, and Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport, have reported significant passenger trips – rapidly getting closer to pre-pandemic air traffic volumes – illustrating their growing importance as international aviation hubs.
These airports, along with Macau International Airport and Zhuhai Jinwan International Airport, form the core of the GBA’s ambitious aviation project. The development of the GBA’s airport cluster is a multifaceted endeavor.
One innovative initiative is the “Fly-via-Zhuhai-Hong Kong” passenger transfer service, which seamlessly integrates Zhuhai Jinwan International Airport with Hong Kong International Airport via the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge.
This service simplifies travel by eliminating the need for entry and exit inspections in Hong Kong, expected to serve around 500,000 passenger trips annually. This integration is a clear example of the GBA’s commitment to enhancing connectivity and convenience for travelers.
Logistics play a crucial role in the GBA’s airport strategy.
Hong Kong, leveraging its status as an international shipping hub, has established new mechanisms for goods flow with various GBA cities. The Dongguan-Hong Kong International Airport Logistics Park, launched in April last year, served over 300 foreign trade enterprises with an enormous import and export value.
In terms of infrastructure development, the GBA boasts seven transport airports with 11 runways, including three major international hubs and two feeder airports, Foshan Shadi Airport and Huizhou Pingtan Airport.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates the Greater Bay to reach 387 million passenger trips and 20 million tons of air cargo traveling through the area by 2030.
However, the major airports in the GBA are already operating at or near full capacity. To facilitate more frequent movement of people and goods in the GBA, multiple airports in the area are undergoing expansion and accelerated development. In the coming years, there will be significant progress and breakthroughs as these airports strive to meet the growing demand.
Hong Kong International Airport’s three-runway system, Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport’s third-phase expansion, and Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport’s runway expansion are pivotal projects in this respect.
The Macau International Airport is not left behind, with the Macau Airport Company initiating last year the Macau International Expansion and Reclamation Project. This project aims to refine the airport’s capacity and integrate it further with Hengqin, fostering a “One Journey, Multiple Stops” travel experience.
By 2035, the GBA is expected to have seven transport airports with 17 runways, handling a passenger throughput of 420 million and a cargo throughput of over 20 million tons.
“The future demand for air passenger and cargo transportation in the GBA will only continue to grow. By leveraging their respective strengths and promoting coordinated development, mutual benefits and win-win outcomes can be achieved,” Cheung Kwok Law, senior research fellow at the Aviation Policy and Research Center, Chinese University of Hong Kong, told the People’s Daily this week.
Indeed, experts alert that the aviation cluster faces the need to meet rapidly increasing demands for travel, cargo, business, and leisure amenities. And it requires achieving superior connectivity and operational efficiency, which are key differentiators of a world-class airport cluster. Additionally, regional coordination is a crucial aspect.
Hong Kong International Airport, recognized as one of the best airports globally, plays a pivotal role in this development.
Its geographical advantage allows passengers to reach major cities in the Asia-Pacific region within five hours of the world’s population.
Fred Lam Tin-fuk, CEO of the Airport Authority Hong Kong, emphasizes the vision of transforming Hong Kong International Airport into a crucial international aviation hub.
This vision aligns with the broader goal of strengthening cooperation and connectivity within the GBA, offering improved travel options, and attracting more overseas investors and tourists.
Major world airport clusters
New York Metropolitan Area: This cluster includes airports like John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia Airport, and Newark Liberty International Airport. Together, they form one of the world’s largest airport systems in terms of passenger traffic and serve as a major gateway for international flights. In 2022, JFK alone recorded 55.2 million passengers and handled a total cargo and mail volume of 1.5 million short tons.
London Airport System: Comprising Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, and London City airports, this cluster serves the London metropolitan area. Heathrow, in particular, is noted for being one of the world’s busiest airports in terms of international passenger traffic.
Los Angeles Basin: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), John Wayne Airport, Ontario International Airport, and several others make up this cluster. LAX is the primary airport and is among the busiest in the world, while the others serve regional or specific airline needs.
Tokyo Airports: Narita International Airport and Haneda Airport are the two main airports serving the Greater Tokyo Area. While Narita serves more international flights, Haneda is one of the busiest airports in Asia for passenger traffic.
Paris Airport System: This includes Charles de Gaulle Airport and Orly Airport, among others. Charles de Gaulle Airport is the largest international airport in France and one of the world’s principal aviation centers.
San Francisco Bay Area: This cluster consists of San Francisco International Airport, Oakland International Airport, and San Jose International Airport. While San Francisco International is a major international gateway, the other two airports primarily serve domestic flights and some international destinations.