Growing passenger traffic, and a need to stay ahead of regional competition, lie behind the Chinese government's decision to approve the construction of a second airport in Beijing.
When it is ready in 2018, the airport will put the Chinese capital alongside the likes of London, New York and Tokyo - major cities with more than one large airport in operation. It will also help Beijing maintain its edge ahead of planned upgrades and capacity increases at cities such as Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
Last year, the existing Beijing Capital International Airport (BCIA) handled 81.9 million passengers, a 4% increase from a year ago. The airport's traffic has been steadily climbing over the years - from over 50 million in 2007 to 60 million in 2009, before hitting its capacity threshold of 82 million last year.
BCIA is expanding its Terminal 2 to raise capacity by 10 million, and also plans to open an unused section of Terminal 3 by this year. The airport is also awaiting governmental approval for the construction of a fourth and fifth runway.
But passenger traffic is expected to hit 150 million by 2015, a BCIA official says. This means the airport could possibly overtake Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as the world's busiest.
Between 2012 and 2031, Chinese air traffic demand is also expected to grow at 7.2% annually, according to Flightglobal's Ascend consultancy.
This means that China could account for 15% of global aviation traffic demand by 2031, up from 10% in 2011.
"BCIA is one of three main hubs, which handle 27% of total passenger throughput in China. No matter how much it expands, it will still not be able to keep up with traffic and congestion," says Neil Dave, aerospace consultant at Frost & Sullivan.
To say that Beijing needs to quickly push through plans to get a second airport up and running is no exaggeration.
"As the traffic at BCIA has almost hit its full capacity, the second airport capacity becomes increasingly important," says Ascend's managing consultant Joanna Lu. "Continuously improving operational efficiency is the only way before the second airport is in use."
Congestion has long been a bugbear at BCIA, the world's second busiest airport by passenger numbers in 2011, according to data from Airports Council International.
The city must also work to ensure that it remains a hub for airlines such as Air China, China Southern and Hainan Airlines, and not risk losing passengers to less busy operators in nearby cities.
In the short term, however, the new airport will work to meet the demand of the booming market, more than to protect its hub status, analysts say. The expected growth of air traffic in China will also mean huge opportunities for airports in the country, they add.
"Beijing is the main tier one airport in northern China. This means that it has a lot of market dominance and there's not much of a chance for surrounding airports in the region to compete for awhile," says Dave.
Although details have been few, the Civil Aviation Administration of China has said that the new airport will be located in Daxing, south of Beijing, and have the capacity to handle 70 million passengers annually.
The airport will also be the first in Asia, and one of the few in the world, to have at least six runways - a hint of the scale of things to come. Hartsfield-Jackson airport has five runways and is contemplating building a sixth.
Passengers in Beijing have long complained about delays, but this is not something that can be fixed merely by building additional runways or even a massive new airport.
To ease congestion at the Chinese capital, the most important issue is fair distribution of airspace for civil and military use. The military has control of China's airspace and it is widely known that only about 20% of the country's airspace is open to civil aviation, resulting in congestion at major airports.
"Opening up of airspace may happen sooner as this has become the barrier for growth at Chinese airports. The further development of China's air transport system, from the quality perspective, will largely depend on airspace management," says Lu.