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Airports

Grand ambitions drive Asian aerotropolis projects

05 October 2018
Design vision for the Zhengzhou aerotropolis. Source: ZAEZ

Plans for Zhengzhou in China and U-Tapao in Thailand reflect the role of aviation in powering Asian economic growth

Non-aeronautical operations such as car parking and retail sales already account for more than 50% of revenues at many airports, but operators are increasingly maximising their revenues and underlining their broader economic value by embracing the concept of the airport city, or aerotropolis.

This term refers to a cluster of aviation-linked businesses around an airport, according Professor John Kasarda, director of the Centre for Air Commerce at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Business functions include the time-sensitive manufacture of electronic components, quick dispatch of online purchases from a distribution warehouse, unveiling of new products at a trade show centre, or even serving medical tourists.

Aerotropolises are proving to be cash cows. Amsterdam Schiphol in the Netherlands, Paris Charles de Gaulle in France, Dallas-Fort Worth in the United States, Incheon in South Korea, and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates attract billions of dollars by embracing the aerotropolis model, Kasarda said.

Asian projects

One aerotropolis that could soon find itself in the front ranks is the Zhengzhou Airport Economy Zone (ZAEZ) near Zhengzhou Xinzheng International Airport in central China, about 60 minutes by air from Beijing and Shanghai. Another fast-rising aerotropolis is based at U-Tapao International Airport in eastern Thailand, about a two-hour drive from central Bangkok.

It is no accident that both aerotropolises are in Asia, given the rapid economic growth in the region. According to the International Monetary Fund, Asian GDP is set to rise by 5.4% in 2018 with China and Thailand posting a growth of 6.6% and 3.9%, respectively. There is a correlation between GDP growth and air-traffic demand, noted Dr Kanit Sangsubhan, secretary general of the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) in Thailand.

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