With extension work already underway at the Capital International Airport, plans have been unveiled for a second airport for Beijing.
The new airport will be built after the 2008 Olympics, said a civil aviation administration official.
The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) recently called for authorities to speed up their consultations on where the new airport will be.
Hong Shanyuan, an official with the airport department of the General Administration of Civil Aviation (CAAC) said it could be built in Hebei Province or to the south of the city.
"The site of the airport will be chosen from either the city of Langfang, in Hebei Province or at the Nanyuan Airport to the south of Beijing," said Hong. He told China Daily that authorities have only got as far as looking for a site.
In the past, there had been speculations that the new airport might be built in Tianjin or Beijing's Tongzhou District.
"In my opinion, the two candidate sites have similar advantages, except for their airspace availability," said Wang Wei, a professor with the Civil Aviation University of China.
He stressed that the authorities should select the site with the most available airspace.
Beijing already has a few no-fly zones, which have restricted the development of the current capital airport. The construction of a second international airport will have to take into consideration what airspace remains, said Wang.
The site at Langfang is a "moderate" distance from other nearby airports, said Li Haijun, an official with the Langfang Development and Reform Commission.
"We believe building the capital's second airport in Langfang will not influence the operation of other nearby airports," said Li.
Langfang also has other advantages, such as no no-fly zones over the city and no large residential areas near the site.
However, Langfang also has some disadvantages compared with the other candidate, Nanyuan Airport in southern Beijing.
Nanyuan Airport is closer to the capital's downtown area only 25 to 30 kilometers, while the distance from Langfang is more than 40 kilometres.
"Usually an airport is less than 30 kilometers from the city it serves," Guo Feng, assistant manager of the planning department of the Capital Airport Group Corporation, was quoted by Beijing Business Today as saying.
Another advantage Nanyuan Airport has is that it is located in Beijing's Daxing District, within the capital's jurisdiction, while Langfang is part of Hebei Province.
However, currently used by both civilian and military planes, Nanyuan Airport may not have as much available airspace as Langfang.
Both Daxing district government and Beijing Municipal Commission of Development and Reform have refused to comment on the possible site for an airport.
But airport construction specialist Wang Wei, said distance would not be a problem as long as the airport was between 30 and 60 kilometers from downtown Beijing.
"Many cities' experiences show that an airport too close to the downtown area would actually hinder the city's expansion, so 40 kilometers the distance between Langfang and Beijing will not be a problem," said Wang.
According to Li Haijun, the Langfang airport would be an hour's drive from Tian'anmen Square.
In addition, building a second airport in Langfang could stimulate the economic development of the whole Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area, say experts.
The NDRC recently proposed that the site should be selected taking the whole area's economic development into account.
Initial work was done on finding a site for a second airport for the capital in 2002 and 2003, but the scheme was suspended when it was decided to expand the Capital Airport instead.
Scheduled to be completed by the end of 2007 to serve the 2008 Olympic Games, the expansion project includes the construction of a third terminal and runway.
With these facilities, the capital airport will be able to handle 60 million passengers and 1.8 million tons of cargo per year by 2015.
The current airport facilities can handle 35 million passengers and 780,000 tons of cargo every year.
(China Daily July 31, 2006)