Sunday, September 29, 2019


Whenever a public utility institution that has been a fixture of any given local shuts down, it is sure to invite a lot of people dropping by if only to see the old place go. One particular example would be transport hubs like airports. The 1998 closure of the old Hong Kong International Airport in Kai Tak drew quite the nostalgic crowd for the former air hub that was immortalized for its Runway 13 landing approach passing low over Victoria Harbour and Kowloon. Last week another international airport, this time on the Chinese mainland, also memorably shut its doors on over a century of service.

CNN reports that a notable crowd of people in Beijing have gone to visit the former complex of Nanyuan Airport, the first airport built in China 109 years ago, when it was still ruled by the Qing Dynasty. Nanyuan officially closed down last Wednesday, September 25, and its operations and airport codes were then transferred to Beijing Daxing International Airport, opened that very same day by Chinese President Xi Jinping. The final operations at Nanyuan were fairly small in scale, with a flight from China United Airlines, which long used it as a hub, departing 10 PM Wednesday local time.

Even with Nanyuan no longer active from that point on, the following days still saw crowds of Beijing residents assembling at the entryways of the closed-up airport buildings in order to pay their respects to the old air travel hub. The local government has placed historical displays at the area, as well as friendly notices to the windows of unclaimed cars that remain parked in Nanyuan’s parking lot, reminding their owners that flights now operate at Daxing (below). Many of the visitors noted that they would miss the air traffic that used to make the old airport alive for decades.
The old Nanyuan Airport is indeed the first and oldest airport in China, opening in 1910 during the final years of the last Imperial ruling house of Qing. It was used by both civilian travelers and the military, with many of the first Chinese pilots receiving training there. Nanyuan remained open even during the Japanese occupation of World War II and the Chinese Civil War, and had some prominence in recent Chinese history, from the arrangements for then-US President Richard Nixon’s China visit in the 1970s, to the launch of China United Airlines in 1986.

Following its closure, Nanyuan is said to be converted into an aviation history museum, though there have been no information on when the conversion of the building complex might begin.

Images from Xinhua and Forbes


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