DALLAS – The creation of artificial islands is not a new concept and has been practiced by civilizations throughout history.
One of the earliest examples of artificial islands can be found in ancient Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq), where people created artificial islands for religious and agricultural purposes. The ancient Chinese also built artificial islands as early as the 10th century AD to serve as military bases and trading posts.
Creating artificial islands has become more widespread in the modern world, particularly in coastal cities. Countries like the United Arab Emirates, China, and Japan have undertaken large-scale land reclamation projects to build artificial islands for various purposes. Some purposes include airports, seaports, residential and commercial developments, and tourist attractions.
But why do we find most Artificial Island airports in Asia, despite being the largest continent in the world? Airways takes a look at how many airports Asian countries have built on artificial islands.
Why So Many?
Asia, the most extensive and populous continent on Earth, is a place full of rich history and diverse cultures. With over 4.6 billion inhabitants, it’s a bustling hub of activity that’s a feast for the senses.
Despite facing challenges such as poverty, political instability, and environmental issues, Asia is home to some of the world’s fastest-growing economies, including China and India. The region is also a hotbed of innovation, particularly in fields such as technology and medicine.
There are various reasons why we find so many island airports in Asia. These include:
Limited land availability: Many Asian cities have little land available for airport development due to the region’s geography. For example, cities like Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Seoul are mountainous or coastal areas, and finding suitable land for airport expansion is challenging. Artificial islands solve this problem by allowing airports to expand their footprint and accommodate more passengers and aircraft.
Population growth and tourism: It has experienced rapid population growth and a surge in tourism in recent decades. This has led to increased air travel demand, which requires airports to expand and improve their infrastructure. Such islands offer a way to build new airport facilities without disrupting existing urban areas or encroaching on natural habitats.
Economic growth and global connectivity: Many Asian countries have become significant players in the worldwide economy, and air travel plays a critical role in their connectivity with the rest of the world. Artificial island airports provide a way to increase capacity and efficiency, allowing countries to handle more flights and passengers and improve their competitiveness in the global market.
Geopolitical and strategic considerations: Some countries in Asia, such as China, have used artificial islands for strategic and military purposes, building runways and facilities on reclaimed land in disputed territories. In these cases, artificial islands serve as a way to project power and establish a presence in sensitive areas.
When it comes to artificial islands, Asian countries are not alone in the world. But the reasons for their construction differ from airports. They were used for other purposes, such as creating new land for urban development, coastal protection, offshore oil and gas exploration, and tourist destinations featuring hotels, resorts, and other recreational facilities.
It is worth noting that some countries outside Asia have also built limited portions of their airports on sea or ocean. Such as the Madeira International Airport (FNC) in Portugal features a runway built on a platform supported by 180 pillars, giving the impression that the runway is floating on water. The platform and pillars were constructed as an artificial island.
However, it is Asia that has developed islands solely for the purpose of building airports. The region has more than ten airports built partially or entirely on artificial islands.
Asian Artificial Island Airports
There are close to 50 countries in Asia. Still, few countries, such as China (including Hong Kong and Macau), Japan, Qatar, South Korea, and Turkey, have built complete or some parts such as runways, terminals, or other facilities on artificial islands.
Japan tops the list as it has designed and constructed more artificial island airports than any other Asian country. China and Turkey follow.
Chubu Centrair International Airport (NGO), Japan
The first airport on our list is Japan’s Chubu Centrair International Airport (NGO), also known as Centrair, which is the world’s gateway to Aichi. It is a spectacular man-made island airport located off the coast of Nagoya, Japan. The airport was built on a 1.7 square kilometer (0.66 square miles) artificial island in Ise Bay, which was constructed using landfill technology.
The airport was planned to offload the existing Nagoya Airport (NKM) [Now known as Nagoya Airfield]. It was earlier an international airport but is currently a domestic secondary airfield serving the city.
The airport, which opened in 2005, almost 18 years ago, was built to serve as a new international hub for the central region of Japan, which includes the major cities of Nagoya, Gifu, and Shizuoka. It was designed to provide a convenient and efficient gateway for travelers to access these cities and other parts of Japan and Asia.
One of the most striking features of the airport is its distinctive terminal building. The T-shaped terminal, with a spacious atrium at its center and a roof made of a translucent material that allows natural light to flood the interior. The design is intended to evoke a sense of lightness and transparency while providing a functional and efficient space for travelers.
NGO is a testament to Japan’s technological prowess and commitment to innovation and efficiency. Whether you’re arriving or departing, the airport offers a memorable and enjoyable experience that differentiates it from other airports worldwide.
Dalian Jinzhouwan International Airport (DLC), China
The Dalian Jinzhouwan International Airport (DLC) is under construction and is expected to open in 2026. But the construction for the airport started in 2011, and the airport project was officially announced in 2012. Once open, it will replace the existing Dalian Zhoushuizi International Airport (DLC) as the city’s main airport.
The airport is being built on 21 square kilometers (8.1 sq mi) of reclaimed land off the coast of Dalian. It is set to become the world’s largest offshore airport and mainland china’s first airport wholly built on artificial islands. The Chinese authority in March 2021 reviewed the project and officially documented it under the national review phase.
Since 1924 when Dalian was under Japan’s lease, Dalian Zhoushuizi International Airport has served both military and commercial flights. Over time, the airport has undergone four developments in 1992, 1993, 2005, and 2011 to acclimate to the rapid growth in air traffic.
In 2012, the airport served more than 13 million passengers, making it the 15th busiest airport in China. However, with Dalian’s continuous proliferation, the airport is now surrounded by a built-up metropolitan area, leaving no room for further expansion. Due to this, China has planned to develop its first offshore island airport at an estimated cost of $30 bn.
The airport is being constructed in two phases. The first phase comprises a 400,000-square-metre (4,300,000 sq ft) terminal building and two runways, allowing the airport to handle 31 million passengers and 650,000 tons of shipment annually. At the same time, the second phase will include the development of two more runways to facilitate more flights. Once completed, it can handle 70 million passengers and one million tons of cargo each year.
Some experts criticized the new Dalian airport due to its cost and cautioned that constructing and maintaining runways on the reclaimed ground could be 20 times more expensive than inland airports. They can be correct, as the expected opening has been delayed from 2018 to 2026 following the challenges of working on the reclaimed island.
Hamad International Airport (DOH), Qatar
Hamad International Airport (DOH) is a human engineering and ingenuity marvel. This airport, located in Doha, Qatar, is a testament to the relentless ambition and vision of the government of Qatar. What makes DOH particularly impressive is that it was built on reclaimed land – an achievement that speaks volumes about the technological advances made in recent years.
The decision to build an airport on land that did not exist yet was a bold move, but the government of Qatar knew that it was necessary to keep up with the demands of Qatar Airways (QR) and the growing number of passengers. The chosen location for the airport was the Ras Abu Fontas peninsula, a large area of shallow water and sand that was part of the Arabian Gulf.
The project involved dredging millions of cubic meters of sand and rock from the sea bed and depositing it on the shallow water to create an area of over 11 out of 22 square kilometers of new land. The entire process was a massive undertaking that took several years to complete.
Bechtel was awarded the contract by the Steering Committee to oversee the development of the airport. The agreement encompasses the management of construction, project design, and project management of the facilities.
HOK, an architecture firm, was responsible for designing the terminal and concourses. Turkish TAV Construction and Japanese Taisei Corporation were assigned to handle the engineering, procurement, and construction contracts for Phases I and II.
There were many challenges in building an airport on reclaimed land, but the engineers working on the project were up to the task. One of the most significant challenges was ensuring the stability of the land. Engineers used soil improvement techniques to inject cement and other materials into the ground to make it more stable and less likely to shift or sink over time.
Another challenge was minimizing the project’s environmental impact on the marine life that was called the Ras Abu Fontas peninsula home. The government of Qatar worked closely with environmental experts to ensure that the land reclamation process was accomplished and had minimal disruption to marine life.
Today, DOH is a shining example of what can be achieved through determination, innovation, and hard work. It is one of the world’s most modern and efficient airports, serving millions of passengers annually.
Hong Kong International Airport (HKG), Hong Kong (China)
Hong Kong International Airport (HKG), also known as Chek Lap Kok Airport, is one of the world’s busiest airports and a crucial transportation hub for Asia. The airport is located on a large, artificial island off the coast of Hong Kong, which was reclaimed from the sea in a massive land reclamation project.
The thought of building an airport on an artificial island was first presented in the late 1980s, when the existing airport in Kowloon, Kai Tak Airport, was reaching its capacity limit.
The administration of Hong Kong recognized the need for a larger and more modern airport, but no land was available on the overcrowded Hong Kong island. Therefore, the judgment was made to build an artificial island in the waters of the South China Sea, off the coast of Lantau Island.
The Kai Tak Airport was the world’s first airport to be constructed on an artificial island of reclaimed land. Do check out Airways’ post on Kai Tak here;
The land reclamation project began in 1989 and was one of the most massive civil engineering projects ever undertaken. The project involved dredging more than one billion cubic meters of sand and rock from the sea floor and depositing it in the shallow water to create an island.
HKG is constructed on a gigantic artificial island by leveling the former Chek Lap Kok and Lam Chau islands, concealing an area of 3.02 square kilometers and 0.08 square kilometers, respectively. Further, 9.38 square kilometers of the seabed were reclaimed for the project.
The airport site spans 12.48 square kilometers, including the reclaimed land, adding nearly one percent to Hong Kong’s total surface area. The site is connected to the north side of Lantau Island near Tung Chung’s new town.
The project was divided into two phases. The first phase involved creating the land for the airport and the supporting infrastructure, including runways, taxiways, aprons, and roads. The second phase involved building the passenger terminal, cargo terminal, and other facilities.
The airport was designed by a consortium of architects, engineers, and contractors led by the British engineering firm Arup. The passenger terminal is one of the largest in the world and was designed to create a pleasant and comfortable experience for travelers. The terminal features a spacious, airy design, with natural light and greenery to create a calming and relaxing atmosphere.
Today, HKG is one of the most impressive engineering feats in the world. The airport serves millions of passengers annually and is a vital transportation hub for Asia.
Incheon International Airport (ICN), South Korea
Incheon International Airport (ICN), also referred to as Seoul–Incheon International Airport, is the most comprehensive airport in South Korea. This is the main airport serving the Seoul Capital Area and one of the world’s largest and busiest airports.
Following the Summer Olympics in 1988, the international inflow increased in South Korea. Due to this, it became apparent that the existing Gimpo International Airport (GMP) could not sustain increased demands. Following this, the government decided to build a new international airport.
After so much struggle to find the site for this project, on November 1992, the development of the Incheon airport began on reclaimed land between Yeongjong Island and Youngyu Island. It took them eight years to finish, with a further six months for testing.
The airport’s construction also included the development of transportation infrastructure to connect it with the surrounding areas. A bridge and a tunnel were constructed to link the airport to mainland South Korea, while a new subway line was built to connect the airport to Seoul, the country’s capital.
However, the opening was delayed due to the economic crisis, and it opened to the public on March 21, 2001. It has won numerous awards for its design, operations, and customer service. It is considered one of the best airports in the world, handling millions of passengers every year.
The airport is not only a gateway to South Korea but also a symbol of the country’s economic development and technological prowess.
Kansai International Airport (KIX), Japan
Kansai International Airport (KIX) is located on an artificial island in the middle of Osaka Bay, Japan. The airport was constructed in the late 1980s to address the region’s growing demand for air travel. The construction of the airport on an artificial island was necessary due to the limited land availability in the surrounding area.
The construction was completed in 1994 after 20 years of planning, three years of construction, and US$15bn of the initial investment. KIX was opened to the public on September 4, 1994. The airport serves Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto, handling international traffic for the region. It is also a hub for All Nippon Airways (NH), Japan Airlines (JL), and Nippon Cargo Airlines (KZ).
The airport is sinking, and the authority is concerned about it. But they have implemented some distinctive measures to prevent the sinkage that we have mentioned in our premium article.
Kitakyushu Airport (KKJ), Japan
Kitakyushu Airport (KKJ) is another Japanese airport in Kokuraminami-ku, Kitakyushu, Fukuoka, Japan. Hence it is also known as Kokuraminami Airport. KKJ is built on an artificial island in the western Seto Inland Sea, 3 km (1.9 mi) away from the city’s mainland.
The construction of KKJ was proposed as the former Kokura Airport had various restrictions. Due to its small dimensions and site, close to cliffs and residential areas. Heavy fog usually resulted in flight revocations. Also, night operations were limited due to its proximity to residential areas.
The KKJ can be free from all restrictions as it can cater to 24-hour operations following offshore locations. It is the fourth airport in Japan that can continue its operations 24 hours a day. This helped the region as it can be convenient for freight movement to and from nearby industrial zones. The Toyota factory is just across the bay.
The airport officially opened after 12 years of construction on March 16, 2006. A toll-free bridge, approximately two kilometers, connects the island to the Higashikyūshū Expressway.
Kobe Airport (UKB), Japan
The airport receives its name from its location off the coast of Kobe, Japan. The Kobe Airport (UKB) is constructed on an artificial island and maintained by the Kansai Airports company, a joint venture between Orix-Vinci and SA consortium. It is the hub for Skymark Airlines (BC) and Fuji Dream Airlines (JH).
The airport was first proposed in 1971 as an alternative to Osaka International Airport (ITM). But due to politics, the airport project was delayed for nearly three decades. Finally, the construction began in 1999, and the airport was officially opened on February 16, 2006.
It is primarily developed to serve domestic destinations but can provide international charter services. UKB is connected to KIX by the Kobe–Kanku Bay Shuttle, a high-speed ferry that concludes the airport-to-airport voyage in 31 minutes, covering 22 km at the nominal cost of ¥500 (US$5) for each passenger.
The airport has a runway of 2,500 meters (8,202 ft); it was built with an estimated cost of over ¥300bn, or US$3bn. The airport is capable of handling over one million passengers annually. In 2021, UKB held close to 1.7 million passengers and approx—15,000 aircraft movements.
UKB is connected to the mainland via a 1.7-kilometer-long suspension bridge called the Kobe Airport Sky Bridge. The Bridge provides a convenient and fast connection between the airport and the city of Kobe, allowing easy access to the airport by car, bus, and train.
Macau International Airport (MFM), Macau (China)
Macau International Airport (MFM) is constructed on an artificial island by reclaiming the land. Some parts of the airport are built on the mainland, while most of it, including the runway, is constructed on reclaimed land. It is the only airport that serves the island of Macau and is the hub for the flag carrier Air Macau (NX).
Ever since its official inauguration in 1995, Macau International Airport has emerged as a vital link between the Pearl River Delta, which is recognized as the world’s rapidly growing economy, and the rest of the world. The airport’s strategic location offers a favorable advantage for serving as a cargo and express hub in the Asia-Pacific region.
The MFM is managed by the Macau International Airport Franchise Company Limited (CAM). At the same time, various tasks are contracted to other companies, such as Airport Information Management Technology Co., Ltd, JLL Limited (Macau), and Macau Security Company Limited.
It has a runway of 3,360 meters (11,024 ft) and is designed to handle six million passengers and 160,000 metric tons of cargo per year. But pre-pandemic, in 2019, it handled close to 9.6 million passengers, while in 2022, it handled less than 600,000 passengers.
Despite having less area, the MFM is capable of handling the Antonov 124s and Boeing 747 aircraft. It has a freight facility area of 18,500 square meters and has the capacity to serve up to 10,000 meals per day.
Nagasaki Airport (NGS), Japan
The first artificial airport in Japan, Nagasaki Airport (NGS), was constructed and operated as a military aerodrome in 1923. The airport commenced civilian operations in 1955 and opened as Omura Airport. It was built on Mishima Island on Omura Bay, in the center of Nagasaki Prefecture, by reclaiming land near the shore from 0.9 to 1.54 km2 (0.35 to 0.59 sq mi).
Located in Omura Bay, Mishima Island was a tiny landmass spanning roughly 900,000 square meters and measuring 7 kilometers in circumference. It was inhabited by 66 individuals, comprising 13 households, who were willingly obliged to relocate for the airport’s construction. The development of the airport commenced in 1972, and it took approximately three years to build at the cost of ¥18bn (roughly US$60m at the time).
It is also the world’s first airport to be constructed on the ocean. The first international service from the airport commenced in September 1979 to Shanghai. It is a hub for Oriental Air Bridge (OC) regional airlines. The airport handles close to three million passengers annually.
Ordu–Giresun Airport (OGU), Turkey
Ordu–Giresun Airport (OGU) is considered the first European airport constructed on an artificial island. However, Turkey is a transcontinental country and is part of both Asia and Europe. OGU is located just off the coast of Gülyalı, which is a town in Ordu province. It serves both Ordu and Giresun regions, hence the Ordu-Giresun name.
The first thought was put forward to the government in 1992; the construction started in 1994. But shortly came to a halt following the high costs. Later in 2008, the government began to work on the second airport project, and after three years, they started the construction.
The project required about 30 million tons of rocks to develop an artificial island. After four years of construction and at the cost of ₺290m (US$128.5m), the airport opened on 22 May 2015. OGU has a handling capacity of two million passengers annually. However, the airport handles nearly one million passengers; half its capacity.
The airport is served by Turkish Airlines (TK) and its low-cost subsidiaries, such as Pegasus Airlines (PC), AnadoluJet (TK), and SunExpress (XQ).
Rize–Artvin Airport (RZV), Turkey
Another Turkish airport, Rize–Artvin Airport (RZV), is located on an artificial island off the coast of Rize Province in the northeastern part of Turkey. The airport is 34 km (21 mi) east of Rize region and about 75 km (47 mi) west of Artvin province.
In 2017, the construction work began with the groundbreaking. The island was built by filling a section of the Black Sea coastline with rocks sourced from neighboring quarries in Merdivenli, Hisarlı, Kanlımezra, and Kuzeyce. A minimum of 85 million tons of rock was necessary to fill around 30 meters (98 ft) of deep waters.
TRT Haber cites that the airport is suitable for handling the takeoff and landing of Boeing 737-800 aircraft but can also operate larger aircraft. At the same time, it has a runway and runway linkage roads on the east-west axis parallel to the sea in a dimension of 4,500 meters with approaches.
RZV opened to the public last year on May 14, 2022. Subsequently, the first flight that landed was TK Airbus A330-300, reg. TC-JOJ renamed Rize-Artvin to celebrate the opening of the new airport.
The airport is capable of handling around two million passengers annually. The airport is constructed with a budget of ₺750 million (approx. US$206 million). It is the most recent airport that has been built on land that has been reclaimed.
Sanya Hongtangwan International Airport, China
The last Asian artificial island airport on our list, Sanya Hongtangwan International Airport, is a proposed airport in the region of Sanya to serve the Hainan Province of China. The city is currently served by Sanya Phoenix International Airport (SYX), the second busiest airport in Hainan, serving close to 16 million passengers annually.
To offload the SYX, the government started the construction of this new airport on reclaimed land in 2017. It was expected to open in 2020, but following complaints from the Chinese environmental agency Friends of Nature, its work was suspended. If completed, it will be 5.18 times larger than the current SYX.
However, the airport plan was changed, and the new plan reduced the area of reclaimed land by 0.9 km2 (0.35 sq mi). However, the initial proposals outlined the utilization of 29.95 square kilometers (11.56 square miles) of sea airport, 23.99 square kilometers (9.26 square miles) of land area, four runways, three terminal buildings, and the corresponding supporting auxiliary area.
As reported by Environment Justice Atlas, the project will require a total investment of more than ¥100 bn (US$16.3bn). The airport will initially be able to handle 38 million passengers annually, and after completion, according to the plan, it will serve more than 60 million passengers annually.
This completes our exclusive list of 13 airports built partially or fully on an artificial island. Now as promised, let us see the possible challenges with such man-made islands.
While such island airports have several benefits, they also come with a number of challenges and problems. Here are some of the most notable issues associated with artificial island airports:
Environmental impact: The creation of artificial islands involves significant dredging and land reclamation, which can have a negative impact on the marine environment, including the destruction of coral reefs and habitats for marine life. Additionally, the construction and operation of airport facilities on these islands can cause air and water pollution, further damaging the environment.
Cost and complexity: Building such islands is a complex and expensive process, requiring large-scale engineering and construction expertise. This can result in high construction costs and longer project timelines, which can significantly burden governments and investors.
Vulnerability to natural disasters: They are often built in coastal areas, which are vulnerable to natural disasters such as storms, typhoons, and tsunamis. These events can cause significant damage to airport facilities and disrupt operations, leading to safety concerns and economic losses.
Geopolitical tensions: In some cases, the creation of artificial islands has led to geopolitical tensions and disputes, particularly when the islands are built in contested territories or areas of strategic importance. This can lead to diplomatic standoffs and potential military conflicts, which can have far-reaching consequences.
Island airports showcase innovative designs, engineering techniques, and state-of-the-art technology, making them architectural marvels.
Despite the significant investment required for their construction, artificial island airports serve as important transportation hubs, promoting economic development and tourism in their respective regions.
Additionally, as economies in Asia continue to grow, there is a greater demand for air travel, and island airports provide a way to expand transportation infrastructure in areas where space is limited.
So we can possibly see the development of more such artificial airports on reclaimed land in Asia and possibly in other parts of the world. We can never be sure of what the future holds for us; what seemed impossible is today possible. We might see Sky airports in the coming decades; you never know.
Do you think Japan will continue to dominate the artificial island airport list, or will other Asian countries move up? Be sure to comment on our social media channels.
Feature Image: Hong Kong International Airport | Photo: Fugro