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5 gateways to the East

An airport represents a country’s portal, its welcome to the world. And as the number of passengers continues to increase, airports globally are pushing to keep up with new facilities, expansions and upgrades.

In the Asia Pacific region rapid economic growth is mirrored in the flourishing passenger count which airports continue to post month after month. And the sheer pace of growth has left some airports behind the curve, with modernization and major infrastructure projects such as building new airports lagging the demands of a burgeoning aviation sector.

Some nations, however, have planned well beyond the current numbers, carving out their place as vital destinations in the world’s aviation network. Here’s a look at five of Asia’s primary hubs – four currently in operation and one in the offing – that are already planning for the future.

1 Taiwan Taoyuan International

If flat out efficiency is important to you as a business traveler this bit of news might steer you toward one of Asia’s ‘stealth’ hubs: Taiwan Taoyuan International was the 2015 recipient of Airports Council International’s award as the world’s most efficient airport. In what was almost a double play, ACI also said TPE came in second for airport service quality in 2015.

TPE (that’s Taoyuan’s airport code) is home base for a couple of major international players: EVA Air and China Airlines (not to be confused with its cross-strait rival, PRC’s Air China).

TPE handled some 42.3 million passengers in 2016, making it the planet’s 11th busiest airport in terms of international passengers. It’s a two runway, two terminal affair, with a third terminal set to open in 2020.

T3 alone will accommodate 45 million fliers per year. It’s being billed as one of the most expensive construction projects in the history of modern Taiwan. To help passengers connecting at TPE an inter-terminal rail project is now in the works.

Business travelers may well get their first introduction to Taoyuan via a flight on China Airlines or EVA. Over the past couple of years EVA has been growing its fleet and expanding its reach with service to Houston Bush Intercontinental and Chicago O’Hare International. Both IAH and ORD are major hubs for United Airlines. That’s important, because UA, like EVA, is a major Star Alliance member. This move facilitates connections, frequent flier points sharing and airport club access.

2 Seoul Incheon International Airport

Nine hundred miles to the north, another hyper-efficient airport is Seoul’s Incheon International. Incheon officials say, on average, that departures take 19 minutes and arrivals 12 minutes, far faster than at most airports. Customs processing is really rapid too. Add to speed accuracy. ICN has a mishandled baggage rate of a mere 0.0001 percent.

To underscore how all these kudos work together to whisk business travelers on their way, Skytrax rates Incheon as the world’s best international transit airport. However, even though ICN handles around 50 million fliers annually, it ranks just 8th among Asia’s busiest passenger airport. One reason: close-in Gimpo International handles a significant chunk of regional international traffic to comparatively nearby destinations such as Taipei, Beijing, Osaka and Shanghai.

ICN is home base for both Korean Air and Asiana, a pair of award-winning, service-intensive carriers.

Thirty miles can make for a pricey taxi ride. Best bet for price-sensitive business travelers may be to take the train linking ICN with Seoul’s city center station. If you feel the need for speed there’s the maglev. It will rocket you to Yongyu Station, from which you can hop on an AREX train and Seoul’s subway system.

Incheon’s essential advantage is speed. But it’s not without its attractions. Business Traveler’s Best in Business Travel Awards consistently tap the airport’s duty-free shopping as best in the world.

3 Singapore Changi

If your idea of airport shopping goes beyond picking up plastic trinkets for the kids back home SIN just might be your Asian airfield of choice. Those construction cranes you see pecking away at the center of Changi hover over the site of a $1.7 billion project dubbed “Jewel at Changi.” It’s a shopping, eating and entertainment complex that just might redefine what it means to “pick something up at the airport.”

The Strait Times reports Jewel will be a five-story affair, replete with the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, some 2,500 trees and 100,000 shrubs. The flora is from an assortment of countries.

It’s the effect all this will have on passengers that’s key here. After hours cooped up in an aluminum tube at 35,000 feet all this indoor nature should be rejuvenating – to the soul, if not the pocketbook. Jewel will have about 300 places to eat, drink and go shopping.

Finding Jewel should be relatively simple. It will be accessible from the terminals via air-conditioned bridges fitted with “travelators.” All of this is enclosed under a massive, glass-enclosed dome.

Jewel should add even more luster to Changi’s allure. The 2017 World Airport Awards just named SIN World’s Best Airport for the fifth year running, and Changi was also the Best in Business Travel Awards’ pick for world’s best airport.

4  Hong Kong International Airport

For many of us gray-bearded business travelers it seems only yesterday that Hong Kong International Airport supplanted venerable Kai Tak International as the Special Administrative Region’s aerodrome. Now comes exciting news the new airport just launched a massive construction project to build a third runway.

It’s going to be almost eight years before fliers see the fruits of all that labor, but once the dust settles there will be not just a third runway, but associated taxiways and tarmac as well. Capping it all will be a new passenger boarding building replete with 57 boarding positions. T2 is going to be expanded and the airport’s Automated People Mover lengthened as well. The idea is to transport you from T2 out to the new passenger building in 2.5 minutes.

Upon completion of all this work HKG will be able to handle an additional 30 million passengers per year. Meanwhile, work continues apace on Hong Kong International’s Midfield Development project. Twenty more aircraft parking positions will allow the airport to accommodate at least ten million more passengers per year.

5 New Beijing Airport

Set for opening in 2019 is Beijing’s long-awaited new megaport. In terms of sheer size it may well be the planet’s largest aerodrome, covering some 300 square miles of terra firma.

Initially the airport will debut with 78 gates. These will be arrayed across a couple of levels. To keep things simple, one floor will be for international flights, the other for domestic. The signature theme building for the new airfield is a starfish-shaped terminal. At the six-pronged center of the starfish is a retail hub. Underneath all this lies a rail connector.

Compared to the current Beijing Capital International Airport the new field will be farther afield – 28 miles from city center compared to 15.5 miles for Capital.

Don’t look for Capital to go away when the new airport opens. Instead China envisions the two of them serving as a one-two punch for China. Li Jiaxiang, director of the country’s Bureau of Aviation, says together they’ll be able to handle 150 million passengers a year. That’s far more than any single airport on the planet.

But as business travelers know, it’s the smaller cities (one uses the term comparatively when it comes to the People’s Republic) that are attracting nonstop service from the United States these days. As a consequence, China’s Civil Aviation Administration says the country intends to construct an astonishing 66 new airports over the next five years or so.

Whether Beijing’s massive new airport slows or speeds that construction remains to be seen.