China will become the "big story" of this decade in the aviation industry, given the rapid expansion of its airline market and growth in airports over the next 10 years, says outgoing Cathay Pacific CEO Tony Tyler.
"China is already the world's second-biggest economy and the country's emergence as an economic powerhouse will undoubtedly be reflected by its importance in aviation terms," he added at his keynote address in the Asian Aerospace Congress.
"Just imagine the impact of having hundreds of millions of China's population become wealthy enough to travel outside their country's borders. This is a very exciting prospect for airlines such as Cathay Pacific and Dragonair, positioned as we are in Hong Kong, one of the key gateways to the mainland."
He points out that the number of aircraft passengers in China is expected to reach 500 million by 2015 and 1.5 billion by 2030, up from 267 million in 2010. It will have 220 airports by 2015, up from 175. The number of aircraft will reach 2,600 by 2015 and 4,000 by 2020, up from 1,600 last year.
Hong Kong, he adds, will "punch above its weight", especially when it comes to airfreight, driven by its proximity to China. Cathay is expanding its freighter fleet with 10 new Boeing 747-8Fs and building its own cargo terminal at Hong Kong International Airport that should open in 2013. It is also starting a joint venture cargo airline with Air China to be based in Shanghai.