Beijing will build a second international airport within five years, a senior economic planning official in the capital said yesterday.
It will alleviate pressure on Beijing Capital International Airport (BCIA), which is already the world's second busiest.
The plan was approved by the central government and will be listed as a key project in the nation's 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), said Dr Liu Yinchun, deputy director of Beijing municipal development and reform commission.
It was the first confirmation of the much-rumoured plans for a new airport by a top municipal official.
It will be part of an ambitious infrastructure expansion project - to be unveiled at the annual municipal People's Congress session starting on Friday - designed to boost Beijing's status as an international hub.
The new airport was expected to be operational in 2015 and would be built in the capital's southern Daxing district, Liu said.
He added that it would relieve pressure on BCIA, which has three terminals.
BCIA is designed to handle 76 million passengers and 1.8 million tonnes of cargo a year by 2015.
But its passenger throughput topped 70 million last year.
'So by handling some 70 million passengers a year, BCIA is already close to its maximum capacity,' Liu said. He added that the central government would fund the bulk of the project.
The idea for a second international airport dates back to 2002, after Beijing won the right to host the 2008 Olympics.
But the capital eventually decided to expand BCIA to relieve pressure ahead of the Games. Its third terminal, built at cost of 27 billion yuan (HK$31.6 billion) and opened in 2008, is the largest and most advanced in the country.
Data from Airports Council International show that BCIA's passenger throughput was 55.2 million in the first three quarters last year, second in the world behind Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in the United States.
Hong Kong ranked 12th, handling 37.6 million passengers.
Yang Guoqing , former vice-director of the General Administration of Civil Aviation, said last year that a new airport was inevitable.
Beijing's 12th Five-Year Plan, the preparation of which Liu has been supervising for the past few years, also calls for 'connecting roads and matching services' for the new airport, some of which will be launched very soon.
The municipal government is also ready to host four more high-speed rail connections in addition to the existing 350km/h Beijing-Tianjin line.
A new Beijing-Shanghai rail service, reportedly able to run at a speed of more than 500km/h, will open later this year and soon be joined by high speed lines connecting to Shenyang, Shijiazhuang and Zhangjiakou Liu said.
He added that all the inter-city high-speed rail lines and expressways would boost regional business integration, with Beijing pleased to see its remaining manufacturing activities relocate to the less expensive nearby cities, along with their low-skilled labour.
Services contributed 73.2 per cent of Beijing's gross domestic product in 2009, higher than in any other mainland city.
By comparison, they made up only 53.7 per cent in Shanghai and 42.9 per cent in Guangdong province.
Beijing's overall goal was to improve the quality of its services, Liu said, with less importance assigned to economic output and more given to human interests, innovation and environmental protection. That means greater efforts are also planned to alleviate the capital's notorious inner-city traffic congestion.
Despite recent internet criticism of many cities' big-ticket, if not wasteful, subway and urban rail systems, Liu said the municipal government was convinced that rail transport was still the best option for Beijing.
And the municipal government remains committed to subsidising the operation and development of Beijing's subways, already one of the longest systems in the world.
Liu said Beijing had increased its planned subway length for 2015 to 600 kilometres, up from 561 kilometres, with more and easier connections between existing lines.
The capital's 12th Five-Year Plan will be submitted for approval by the rubber-stamp municipal parliament at its three-day annual session.
During its drafting period, officials said they collected about 17,000 suggestions from the public.