China's airspace is predicted to become busier than the United States in the next 10 years, but airlines are warning its air traffic control isn't up to the task.
The burgeoning superpower plans to build 45 new airports in the next five years, to sustain a booming economy and growing numbers of ever-more affluent Chinese citizens travelling domestically and abroad, and a growing number of incoming passengers from other countries.
If 45 airports sounds like a lot of airports, the next figure may surprise you: China already has 175 of them.
Despite these large numbers, China is still catching up with other developed countries in terms of airports: Australia, for example, has around 450 airports ranging from unsealed dirt strips to major capital city international airports.
Although 130 of China's airports lose money, the government says it will plough in another $230 billion to build 45 more regardless, arguing that local communities invariably see a boom in their economy when an airport is put in, allowing produce to be more easily transported to other cities and countries.
China is seeing an unprecedented 13% per annum rise in air passengers, equating to a projected 300 million people in 2011.
For businesspeople travelling through China, the dramatic increase in airports should provide more direct routes between China's many industrial cities.
However, international airlines have warned that China needs to get its military-operated air traffic control fixed before it can start piling in yet more air traffic.
Giovanni Bisignani, CEO of the International Air Transport Association, told the Los Angeles Times that air traffic over parts of China, especially the Pearl River Delta between Hong Kong and mainland China, was a “mess”, with an unacceptably high level of flight delays and planes even having to detour to other airports to avoid air corridor logjam.
More than 1,600 flights were delayed en-route to mainland China in just six months last year, he said.