POLITICIANS in London who have been debating for years over whether to approve the building of a third runway at Heathrow Airport might find a visit to Zhengzhou—an inland provincial capital little known outside China—an eye-opening experience. Some 20,000 workers are labouring around the clock to build a second terminal and runway for the city’s airport. They are due to begin test operations by December, just three years after ground was broken. By 2030, officials expect, the two terminals and, by then, five runways will handle 70m passengers yearly—about the same as Heathrow now—and 5m tonnes of cargo, more than three times as much as Heathrow last year.
But the ambitions of Zhengzhou airport (pictured) are far bigger than these numbers suggest. It aspires to be the centre of an “aerotropolis”, a city nearly seven times the size of Manhattan with the airport not a noisy intrusion on its edge but built into its very heart. Its perimeter will encompass logistics facilities, R&D centres, exhibition halls and factories that will link central China to the rest of the global economy. It will include homes and amenities for 2.6m people by 2025, about half as many as live in Zhengzhou’s main urban area today. Heathrow struggles to expand because of Londoners’ qualms, but China’s urban planners are not bothered by grumbling; big building projects rarely involve much consulting of the public.