Hongqiao Airport, Shanghai’s main hub for domestic air travel, has come a long way.
“In 1952, Shanghai’s commercial air travel consisted of just 611 passengers,” Luo Keping, a former official with the state-owned Shanghai Airport Authority, told Sixth Tone. “But now, Hongqiao Airport transports tens of millions of people each year.”
First established as a small facility with a dirt runway in 1921, Hongqiao Airport underwent massive development in the following decades. Today, it has turned into an international transport hub. After three decades of instability and uncertainty, the facility was designated for military use in the 1950s, before fully opening to the public in 1971.
During China’s reform and opening-up period in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Shanghai created a new area to absorb foreign investment. Gradually, the suburban Hongqiao area — today, around a 30-minute subway ride from the city center — transformed from a place dotted with modest villages to the modern, bustling Hongqiao Development Zone.
But with buildings now surrounding the airport, the area is approaching the limit of outward expansion. To satisfy the need for more economic development ahead of the world’s fair in Shanghai, known as Expo 2010, the local government proposed a bold plan: establishing Hongqiao as a “comprehensive transportation hub” complete with a state-of-the-art high-speed rail station and integration with the city’s fast-expanding subway network.
A GIF shows satellite images of Shanghai Hongqiao Airport over time, beginning in 1969.
Today, Hongqiao stands as a benchmark for Chinese urban planning, and it has been earmarked for development into an international transport hub under a new project announced this year.
In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic brought domestic and international travel to a halt, some 45 million passengers traveled through Hongqiao Airport.
“Shanghai’s airports are the ‘business cards’ of the city,” said the 69-year-old Luo, who witnessed Hongqiao’s dramatic transformation firsthand. “We used to have a small civil aviation industry. First we upgraded it to a large one, then a powerful one.”
Left: A view of a farmer plowing a field in the Hongqiao area in the early 20th century; right: An aerial view of the modern Shanghai Hongqiao Airport, 1990. Xinmin Evening News
Construction in progress at Shanghai Hongqiao Airport, 1964. International flights began shortly afterward. From the website of the Shanghai Chronicles Office
A customs official checks a passenger’s luggage and travel documents at Shanghai Hongqiao Airport, 1980s. Zhang Yaozhi/Xinhua
Passengers shop at duty-free stores in a terminal at Shanghai Hongqiao Airport, 1988. Courtesy of Luo Keping
An interior view of a terminal at Shanghai Hongqiao Airport, 1988. Courtesy of Luo Keping
Covers of Airport Journal magazine, where Luo Keping worked as chief editor. The left cover is the magazine’s debut issue in 1988; the one on the right from 1991 features Shanghai Hongqiao Airport staff member Hu Mingfen. Courtesy of Luo Keping
The entrance gate of Shanghai Hongqiao Airport, 1991. Courtesy of Luo Keping
A ground service staff member serves drinks to passengers in a VIP room at Shanghai Hongqiao Airport, 1993. Courtesy of Luo Keping
The emergency landing of China Eastern Airlines Flight MU586 on Sept. 10, 1998. Despite faulty landing gear, no passengers or staff were harmed. Courtesy of Luo Keping
A view of the newly built Terminal 2 at Shanghai Hongqiao Airport, Dec. 24, 2019. IC
Signs featuring the Expo 2010 mascot are displayed at Shanghai Hongqiao Airport, 2010. People Visual
A plane prepares to land at Shanghai Hongqiao Airport, Aug. 18, 2017. People Visual
Passengers use electronic check-in stations at Shanghai Hongqiao Airport, May 18, 2018. People Visual
A view of the Pudong skyline from Shanghai Hongqiao Airport, July 18, 2019. Yin Liqin/China News Service
Editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: A photo of ground service staff in matching outfits at Shanghai Hongqiao Airport, 1988. Courtesy of Luo Keping)