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Tourism bottleneck: relief on the way as work is due to start on new airport later this year

The city has outlived the usefulness of Phoenix International Airport, a facility originally designed to handle 1.5 million passengers a year – but saw 16 million visitors pass through its gates last year

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 July, 2016, 10:41am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 July, 2016, 1:31pm

As an ever-increasing number of tourists pour into Sanya each year, the need for a new airport that can handle growing passenger volumes has become evident.


Sanya’s Phoenix International Airport, which was built more than 20 years ago, was originally designed to cope with a maximum 1.5 million passengers a year. As the city’s tourism industry grew at an extremely fast pace through the latter half of the 2000s, annual passenger volumes through Phoenix airport rose by 25 per cent, pushing traffic on its single runway to unintended heights.

Last year, a record 16 million passengers travelled through the beleaguered airport, making it the 18th busiest in all of China. Sanya’s local government officials predict that this passenger traffic will soon eclipse 20 million annually.

Because of air traffic congestion from being forced to operate way in excess of its capacity, travellers to Phoenix Airport experience a logistical bottleneck rather than an efficient transport hub. Flight delays and cancellations are common occurrences, and this has had a detrimental impact on the city’s tourism sector. Reports in newspapers suggest that some Chinese tour groups have cancelled flights to Sanya because of the greater likelihood of delays at the airport.

Sanya has outlived the usefulness of its airport, and in order for the city’s annual 30 billion yuan (HK$35 billion) tourism sector to continue growing, a solution had to be found for this air transport problem. As Phoenix Airport has been expanded on numerous occasions to the stage where it has exhausted all future growth possibilities, a new airport has been deemed the logical answer.

In 2012, a solution was proposed to build the new airport offshore with the construction of a 28-square-kilometre artificial island in Hongtang Bay

Sanya, a city in the south of Hainan Island, is hemmed in between the coastline and the hills of the interior. Hopes for adequate land for a new airport are severely limited, as virtually all of the city’s coastal properties have already been sold off to developers.

So, in 2012, a solution was proposed to build the new airport offshore with the construction of a 28-square-kilometre artificial island in Hongtang Bay, situated between the Nanshan Cultural Tourism Zone and Tianya Haijiao Scenic Spot.

This new island is to be built through land reclamation, where sediment will be dredged from the bottom of the sea before being deposited in the desired location. This model of manufacturing land so that a new airport can be built has previously been done successfully at Chek Lap Kok in Hong Kong, Kansai in Japan and there is an airport on reclaimed land under construction in Dalian, in the north of China.

Sanya’s new island airport will be part of the broader Hongtang Bay Tourism Zone, which will include a tourism area, featuring hotels, duty free shops, an exhibition centre, central business district, seaport, and an industrial zone. It will be a transport hub on China’s one belt, one road initiative.

Building this new aviation hub will be costly. It is estimated that land reclamation alone will run to 700 million yuan, while the airport itself and associated facilities could add a further 6 billion yuan to the bill.

Construction on the island airport is scheduled to begin later this year and is expected to be completed by 2021, when Sanya’s tourism bottleneck will be cleared as the city becomes a new gateway to China, Southeast Asia and the world.