• Naomi Head

China's first airport Nanyuan closes as Daxing opens today

Originally published September 25 2019 by Time Out Beijing

Beijing Nanyuan Airport 1910-2019

The last commercial flight took off yesterday from China’s first and oldest airport, Beijing Nanyuan Airport. After 109 years of service, the airport is set to shutter at the end of this month.

Photo: Liangqian/Wikimedia Commons

Most expats wouldn’t have an inkling about this small airport out at Fengtai district, but those in the know would choose it anytime it flew to their destination. It was closer to the city centre, had just 14 check-in counters and departure gates were just a floor up. Compared to the miles one had to walk just to reach the boarding gates at Beijing Capital Airport, it was a breeze to fly from Nanyuan.

Nanyuan Airport was established by the Qing Dynasty in 1910. It had been both a military and commercial airport, as well as the hub of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s commercial airline, China United Airlines.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

It doubled as an aviation factory and was where the Nanyuan Flying Academy was founded. Before it disbanded in 1928, it had trained over 160 pilots. Then In 1948, the People’s Liberation Army took over the airport, and a year later it became the base of the PLA Air Force’s first brigade. They performed in the founding ceremony of the People’s Republic of China and through the following three decades, Nanyuan proudly served as the training ground for the National Day parades.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Nanyuan became the home of China United Airlines in 1986, providing leisure travel to smaller cities across the country. While China doesn’t have budget airlines, CUA comes close come, flying to destinations at cheap rates. Every Spring Festival, the small airport is packed with migrant workers making the most of the cheaper fare to make their annual journey home.

Photo: N509FZ/Wikimedia Commons

Ahead of the 2008 Olympics, Nanyuan saw huge growth with almost 2.8 million passengers passing through its doors. Several years later, there were significant renovations and the airport grew, with the addition of a second terminal to ease the strain.

Beijing Nanyuan Airport is survived by Beijing Capital International Airport and the newest addition to China’s aviation family, Beijing Daxing Airport that started operations this morning at 4am. All commercial services at Nanyuan will relocate to Daxing Airport. And with no plans to speak of, the fate of Nanyuan is still up for debate, with calls to renovate the airport and create a museum of Chinese aviation history.

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