by Trevor Williams | August 4, 2010
If China's growth in air travel continues its explosive pace, the Beijing Capital International Airport will inevitably surpass Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International as the world's busiest airport, possibly within the next five years.
Despite their battle for that coveted top spot, the airports see each other as partners, not competitors, their top officials told GlobalAtlanta.
"The Atlanta airport is not a rival for us," Dong Zhiyi, chairman of the Beijing airport, said in an interview Tuesday while leading a 13-member delegation to Hartsfield. "There is more cooperation than competition."
In 2009, thanks to China's resilience amid the global recession, Beijing Capital's traffic surged nearly 17 percent to more than 65 million, jumping from eighth to third place worldwide. Hartsfield's declined by 2.23 percent to 88 million during the same stretch.
Beijing's rise to the top accelerated during the first four months of 2010, putting it in the No. 2 spot for the period. With 22.7 million passengers during the period, it now trails only Hartsfield's 27.5 million, according to the latest figures from Airports Council International.
For Hartsfield, the rankings don't matter as much as working with other airports to improve overall efficiency and safety, said Robert Kennedy, Hartsfield's interim general manager.
"It's not necessarily about being No. 1. It's about doing it efficiently, safely, securely and serving the passenger," he said.
Besides, Atlanta and Beijing serve markets on opposite sides of the world.
"The good thing about airports is that very few commercial flights take off and land in the same place," Mr. Kennedy said. "So we work together."
While touring Hartsfield, Mr. Dong was impressed by plans for the new Maynard Holbrook Jackson International Terminal, which is schedule to be completed in April 2012.
Beijing's massive Terminal 3, built in time to host droves of international passengers during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, has been a major factor in the airport's breakneck growth as well as its ability to attract carriers' largest aircraft.
Mr. Dong declined to offer Hartsfield any lessons from his airport's $3.6 billion project. Atlanta's new Concourse F is 10 times smaller Beijing's Terminal 3, but its design seems convenient for airlines and travelers, he said.
"It's really a construction work with a very advanced conception," Mr. Dong said. "I don't have other advice; it is only a good learning example for us."
Along with his position as chairman of the airport, Mr. Dong is also the general manager of the Capital Airports Holding Co. The company owns 39 airports in China comprising 30 percent of all air traffic in the country. The Beijing Capital International Airport Co. Ltd. is listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
Nonstop flights between Atlanta and China are no longer running, although Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc. offers one-stop service to Beijing through Seattle.