A new airport in a contested part of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea will soon be used by military aircraft to conduct test flights, probably within the first half of the year, according to a retired Chinese major general. Civil aircraft completed two test flights on Wednesday at the airport on Fiery Cross Reef, known as Yongshu Reef in China , amid Japanese, Vietnamese and US concerns over the landing of another plane there last Saturday. READ MORE: Chinese civilian aircraft make test run to Fiery Cross Reef in South China Sea Retired major general Xu Guangyu said the airport would mostly serve civilian purposes, such as rescue work and the transport of goods, but it could also be used by military aircraft to patrol the South China Sea. “Military aircraft will take off from there sooner or later. Very likely within the first half of the year,” Xu said. As airports permitted to serve civil aircraft often met more stringent requirements than those that serve military planes, the fact that civil flights had already tested the runway meant it also qualified for military use, he said. The facility’s 3km-long runway made it suitable for fighter planes, bomb carriers, scout planes and helicopters, he said. Allowing civil aircraft on the reef was vital to developing and safeguarding islands in the South China Sea as they helped provide supplies to troop stations there, according to Xu. He said he expected hospitals, warehouses and other facilities to soon be built in the central part of the region. “Airports in the centre of the South China Sea, such as on the Fiery Cross Reef and Mischief Reef, will be beneficial to security in the South China Sea,” he said. The airport is stunning with an excellent runway Hu Yueqiu, airline pilot Fiery Cross Reef, one of many man-made or artificially enlarged islands China has built in the Spratlys, comes under the administration of Sansha in Hainan province and is some 1,400 km away from the Hainan capital of Haikou. It takes more than two days to travel by ship from the reef to Sanya, the nearest major port. Beijing asserts sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, parts of which are also claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines. Several countries voiced concern over China’s landing of an aircraft at the Fiery Cross Reef airport last week. Beijing has shrugged off the protests, saying that the exercise was civilian in nature and that the activity fell “completely within China’s sovereignty”. An Airbus 319 operated by China Southern Airlines landed on the reef at 10.21 am on Wednesday, about two hours after departing from Haikou. Some 25 minutes later, a Hainan Airlines-operated Boeing 737 arrived. The two planes flew back to Haikou in the afternoon, the state-run news agency Xinhua reported. “The airport is stunning with an excellent runway,” Hu Yueqiu, captain of the Airbus 319, was quoted as saying. The airport met all civil aviation requirements and could accommodate large and medium-sized aircraft, Yang Honghai, deputy head of the Chinese Civil Aviation Administration’s aviation standards department, said. READ MORE: ‘Grave concern’: Japan expresses anger over China’s test landing on Spratlys airstrip “The airport will serve as an aviation hub in the Nansha Islands [the Chinese name for the Spratlys] and will offer convenience for goods and personnel transportation and emergency medical care in Yongshu Reef and adjacent areas,” Yang said. Chinese government agencies – including those covering fishing, maritime affairs, search and rescue, scientific research, environmental protection and garbage disposal, will be set up on the reef, the Xinhua report said. The government also planned to draw tourists to visit, it added.