China developing Xinjiang airport as ‘Belt and Road’ air cargo node

Today, China’s state planner approved a US$6.1-billion airport expansion project in Urumqi, capital of China’s far-western Xinjiang province, which will help develop the city into a key air cargo hub in President Xi Jinping’s sprawling “Belt and Road” initiative.

Construction of the Urumqi Airport (URC) will run through 2030, when the expanded airport is expected to handle 750,000 tonnes of cargo and 63 million passengers a year, the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said in a statement. The expansion will also include construction of two additional runways.

As capacity continues to dwindle at the crowded air hubs of eastern China, western-China cities, like Urumqi, are poised to handle the overflow of air cargo. The investment value for the Urumqi airport is more than half of what China is spending on Beijing’s new mega-airport project – Daxing International Airport – that costs $11.5 billion and will serve 72 million passengers a year by 2025.

Although Xinjiang is the biggest among China’s provinces and autonomous regions by area, its $144 billion economy ranks the smallest. The Belt and Road initiative, which aims to reconstruct a modern, multi-modal version of the ancient “Silk Road,” is a major catalyst for the former Silk Road outpost’s revival. The NDRC said that the Urumqi Airport expansion is designed to accommodate the rapid growth and development of the city into an international aviation hub.

URC already serves flights to and from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Russia and the United Arab Emirates. The airport is currently a hub for China Southern Airlines, while other carriers, including SF Airlines, ASL Airlines and China Cargo Airlines, already have freighter flights there, and are in the process of developing more.

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