Shenzhen airport set for move to new home

Authorities have an eight-hour window to shift operations – no easy feat, as Hongkongers have learnt

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 November, 2013, 5:14am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 November, 2013, 4:10pm

After months of trial runs, Shenzhen's airport shuts at 10pm tonight and will shift operations to its new terminal, with the first flight due to depart just before 8am tomorrow.

At least that is the plan.

As any Hong Kong official can tell you, moving airports is a tricky affair. But a smooth handover would go far in convincing the public the Shenzhen operator can become - as it hopes - China's preferred hopping-off point for short flights in Southeast Asia.

Although airport authorities have not said how many trucks and staff will be involved in the relocation, they maintain the eight hours allotted will be enough. With the move, the airport will permanently close its three existing passenger areas - terminals A and B, and Hall D, and direct all traffic through its 8.5 billion yuan (HK$10.74 billion) new terminal, beginning at 6am tomorrow.

Hong Kong's overnight relocation from Kai Tak to Chek Lap Kok was fluid - at first. It was only after the new passenger and cargo terminals opened for business at dawn that the best-laid plans began to unravel when the airport's central computer system grounded to a halt.

That left the airport without the information it needed to operate baggage handling, tarmac parking and flight information displays. The botched move made headlines around the world, and overshadowed an otherwise proud moment.

The Shenzhen operator hopes to ease the transfer burden by cutting the number of flights by 30 per cent from the usual 600 for the first day. It will also keep down cargo volume and passenger numbers for several days as staff adapt to the change. Nevertheless, the airport plans to accommodate 83,000 passengers tomorrow.

The first flight of the day, home carrier Shenzhen Airlines flight ZH9853 will depart for Hohhot in Inner Mongolia via Wuhan at 7.55am. Flight attendants will hand out souvenirs.

Shenzhen Bao'an International airport extention - Terminal 3

The new terminal, a creation of Italian husband-and-wife architects Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas, covers 450,000 square metres, and is about triple the size of the existing terminals. It has 200 check-in counters, 200 shops and 62 boarding gates, and can accommodate the largest passenger planes in operation. It is designed to handle 45 million passengers a year by 2020, which would be a 55 per cent increase on last year's figures. Air cargo and mail capacity is predicted to reach two million tonnes a year.

The two main terminals at Hong Kong's airport, by comparison, cover just over 700,000 square metres, have 377 check-in counters and saw 56.5 million passengers last year, according to its airport authority.

But Shenzhen apparently feels comfortable taking on its bigger brother. The operator, the Shenzhen Airport Company, would focus on developing more routes to Southeast Asia and beyond, to make the facility one of the most competitive in China, said deputy general manager Zhang Huai.

"We will launch more flights to Indonesia, India, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the Middle East, North America and Europe," Zhang said. "Hong Kong airport is gradually giving up many short-haul routes to Asia. Shenzhen is ready and capable to take them up."

The airport saw its international routes grow by 38 per cent this year, and handles 65 flights a week to Singapore, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, among other Southeast Asian cities.

Zhang predicted more Hong Kong passengers would choose to fly overseas from the new terminal. Although Hongkongers can often get cheaper fares if they fly out of Shenzhen, the money saved is often not worth the time spent getting there.

To address that concern, the airport operator is opening 10 bus routes to Hong Kong, Macau, Huizhou , Zhongshan and Dongguan and will run 160 buses a day.

Passengers from Hong Kong or Macau who arrive by ferry can take free shuttles to the new terminal. Fuyong Port, a five-minute bus ride from the terminal, has eight ferry services to Hong Kong and 16 to Macau.

The operator started trial runs with thousands of volunteers and dozens of aircraft in August. But some rehearsal participants expected opening day to be buggy. "I bet a lot of passengers won't be able to reach the check-in counters in time and might even miss their flights," said Linda Guo, who joined a practice exercise on November 18.

"There's no airport express subway line or MTR service directly to the new terminal. The metro ride takes at least an hour from downtown areas like Luohu to the Airport East Station. But from there, it's another 30-minute shuttle bus ride to the terminal's General Transportation Centre.

"Likewise, the flyover from the Guangzhou-Shenzhen expressway has only been open for a few days. Many drivers might easily miss the turn-off," Guo said. "Also, the road signs are quite confusing. I was totally lost trying to find the car park."

Passengers have been told to arrive at the terminal at least two hours before departure for international flights and 90 minutes for domestic ones. Boarding service closes 45 minutes before departure.