Despite initial glitches, Shenzhen’s new air terminal may be a delta game changer

City's upgraded airport looks to draw passengers from Pearl River Delta competitors after some initial problems getting new terminal operational

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 December, 2013, 9:12am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 December, 2013, 4:24am

A month after opening its new terminal and weathering some early turbulence, Shenzhen Baoan International Airport is ready to begin grabbing passengers from other Pearl River Delta aviation hubs.

Passengers still complain about the lack of taxis and moving walkways, and of airport staff who are unfamiliar with the terminal. During unseasonably heavy rains from December 15 to 17, leaks sprung up in several places in the new building. The rain and poor work environment caused dozens of cargo handlers to go on strike, leading to flight delays.

Nevertheless, it appears that many passengers in the delta see the futuristic terminal as a better choice than Hong Kong and Guangzhou to reach destinations around Southeast Asia if flights are available.

Designed by Italian architects Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas in the shape of a manta ray, the 8.6 billion yuan (HK$10.9 billion) terminal, with 200 check-in counters, 200 shops and 62 boarding gates, started operating on November 28.

Triple the size of its earlier terminals, the new facility has handled over 20,000 flights and 2.6 million passengers in its first month – a new monthly record for the airport. The rate of flights delay stood at about 18 per cent.

Watch: Shenzhen Bao'an International airport extension - Terminal 3

Capitalising on the opening of the new terminal, the airport management hopes to increase airport capacity next year by more than 14 per cent to a peak of 60 flights per hour, compared with the current 42 flights an hour. This means up to 90,000 flights could be added annually if the Civil Aviation Administration of China approves the increased traffic in the coming year.

I have to say I like the Shenzhen airport very much. It’s more beautiful and modern than any other airport in China, including Beijing and Hong Kong
Traveller at Shenzhen's new terminal

The Pearl River Delta has some of the busiest airspace in the world, with 142 million passengers passing though its five major airports this year. Shenzhen ranks third with 31 million, behind Hong Kong (57 million) and Guangzhou (48 million).

To attract more passengers from around the delta, Shenzhen Baoan has set up more than 20 check-in terminals in seven Guangdong cities and offers some 160 buses daily to Hong Kong, Macau, Huizhou, Zhongshan and Dongguan. Fuyong Port, a five minute bus ride from the terminal, operates eight ferries to Hong Kong and 16 to Macau.

Shenzhen Baoan will eventually put Pearl River Delta passengers within four hours’ travel to most destinations in Southeast and Northeast Asia, said Zhang Huai, the airport’s deputy general manager. Flights to Europe, India, the Middle East and Russia will be considered too.

Many airlines will open more international routes and increase the number of flights to destinations in the mainland’s domestic market and Southeast Asia next year, Zhang said.

China Southern Airlines plans to launch direct service to Moscow and Hainan Airlines started a flight to Sydney in October. Next year, domestic flights to locations such as Tengchong, Yunnan, Lhasa and Kashgar will open.

Many local and overseas passengers have praised the new terminal, saying it upgrades the image of the city.

“The first sight greeting all arriving passengers is a huge billboard saying ‘You are a Shenzhener once you land here’. I’m very impressed by the slogan and admire the city already. It must be very open and full of energy,” said David Sng from Singapore.

“I have to say I like the Shenzhen airport very much. It’s more beautiful and modern than any other airport in China, including Beijing and Hong Kong,” said a woman passenger from Beijing. “Wifi service is free and very fast. Shops and restaurants are available anywhere at the terminal. You won’t feel bored even if your flight is delayed. I hear they even have prayer rooms for religious passengers.”

One Dongguan traveller said the he used to go to Hong Kong to fly to Thailand. “Now I will choose Shenzhen Airport as long as the ticket costs no more than 500 yuan more than Hong Kong Airport,” he said.

Kent Cai, a veteran mainland tour guide, said that millions of mainland tourists travelled to Southeast Asia last year. “If Shenzhen Airport can lure 10 to 20 per cent of those transit passengers here, that’s a considerable number of people,” Cai said.