BEIJING, Oct 9 (AFP): In peak periods such as this week's National Day holiday, when a fully loaded passenger jet lands or takes off at the Beijing Capital International Airport every minute, the strain begins to show.
The airport has been a work in progress for most of the past decade, giving it the capability now to handle 35 million passengers a year, but it is still not enough, and it is involved in yet another expansion project.
A third passenger terminal is being built, and once it stands ready in 2007, one year ahead of the Olympics, it will be able to process up to 60 million passengers annually, or the entire population of France.
It is not many years ago that China was notorious for its run-down airports, whose surly staff and unhygienic toilets were more third world than first class.
But now, China has become as ambitious about its airports as about most of its other endeavors, renovating and building at a frantic pace, and with seeming disregard of the cost.
So far much of the expansion has taken place along its prosperous eastern seaboard, with the Baiyun International Airport, near south China's Guangzhou city, a major a case in point.
Vast ongoing expansion work means that by 2010 it will have annual capacity of 80 million passengers, up from 25 million now, making it a fierce competitor for Chek Lap Kok airport in nearby Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, a second terminal is being built at Shanghai's Pudong airport, with four terminals the ultimate goal.
But western China, which previously has been limited by lack of economic development, is gradually catching up.
The Xi'an Xianyang International Airport in northwestern Shaanxi province plans to spend 6.2 billion yuan (765 million dollars) on a new runway and a third terminal to be operational in 2011.
Many other smaller airports are also earmarked for renovations and expansion.
Zhao Minhe, director of civil aviation affairs at the China International Engineering Consulting Corp., forecasts a drastic increase in spending on airports in the years ahead.