What happened?

Whereas in the western world some people have stopped flying to save the environment and the development of key aviation hubs is being stalled, something very different is happening across Asia, where travel demand will surpass that of North America and Europe combined by 2037. A Bloomberg report shows that as a result, Asian airports are transforming into mini-cities that aim to become destinations in themselves, with apartments, exhibition spaces, and medical centers. It is part of an Asian aviation boom which is being driven by a growing middle class that wants to travel abroad and airports which can still expand significantly (due to geography, political will, and economic incentives).

What does this mean?

In the 2000 book Aerotropolis, John Kasarda showed that airports have become drivers of 21st century urban development in the same way as seaports (18th century), railroads (19th century) and highways (20th century) did. However, whereas highways facilitated fragmented cities (as cars led to growing suburbs), urban development by way of airports facilitates more centralized cities (as seaports and railroads did). The Asian Aerotropolis will therefore boost the emergence of dense Asian megacities (whereas midsized cities are making a comeback in the western world).

What’s next?

The rise of the Asian Aerotropolis will significantly boost Asian economies, but this will be accompanied by huge challenges, such as congestion, (noise) pollution and the urban-rural rift. Indeed, in the coming years these traditional challenges facing megacities could worsen significantly across Asia. Meanwhile, however, the rise of the Aerotropolis will have a positive economic impact across the region. For instance, Singapore’s Changhi airport already contributes 16% to GDP, which could increase to 25% by the late 2020s. Similarly, 19th century railways contributed to rising GDP across Europe.