Twenty years of growth – Macau International Airport reaches new heights

6 May 2016

In 2015, its 20th year, Macau International Airport (MIA) received a record of 5.8 million passengers and 30,000 tons of cargo. It has 30 airlines serving a total of 44 destinations.

It has been a long journey since its opening on December 8, 1995. Six years earlier the Portuguese government had given a 25-year franchise contract to Macau International Airport Co. Ltd (CAM) to own and manage the airport.

Many were skeptical as to whether it would survive at all – it was the smallest of five airports in the Pearl River Delta within a 200-km radius. It was competing for passengers with international airports in Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, as well as the one in neighbouring Zhuhai. What was the need for another one?

The data from last year proved the skeptics wrong. Passenger traffic was an increase of 6.4 per cent over 2014, while cargo volume rose 4.5 per cent to 30,000 tons. In 2015, there were 2,986 takeoffs and landings of business aviation, an increase of 7.3 per cent, and more than 55,000 aircraft movement, recorded a 6 per cent increase comparing to 2014.

Ma Iao Hang, Chairman of the Board of Directors of CAM, said that, with the increase in passengers, freight and flights, the airport would very soon reach its original design capacity of six million people. “So we plan to expand the passenger terminal to raise the capacity to nine-ten million passengers,” he said.

“It was an excellent performance in 2015, in a less than ideal environment,” Ma spoke in a company meeting to the staff on 15th January 2016 to review the year that has just past. “MIA always takes on the role of the entry point to Macao to the world and continues to build Macao into a world tourism and leisure centre.”

Chairman of the Executive Committee of CAM, Deng Jun said that, in 2016, only quick and steady steps could help to outpace competitors and improve in a fiercely competitive environment.

For 2016, CAM proposed targets of 5.95 million passengers, 30,659 tonnes of cargo and 57,500 flight movements.

In 2014, the commercial income of all the operators in the airport was 4.38 billion patacas, up 6.6 per cent compared to 2013. In 2014, the income of the management company was 1.04 billion patacas: and the profit 2.3 billion patacas, up 21.1 per cent comparing to 2013.

Of the passengers in MIA in 2015, those from Southeast and North Asia accounted for 40 per cent, followed by those from the mainland, 33 per cent, and Taiwan, 27 per cent. During the year, passengers from Taiwan rose 9.6 per cent from 2014, southeast and north Asia rose 11.4 per cent and those from the mainland fell 1.4 per cent.

In 2015, MIA attracted nine new airlines to Macao – China Southern, Hainan Airlines, Beijing Capital Airlines, Jeju Air, MEGA Maldive Airlines, Bassaka Air, Asia Atlantic Airlines, Siam Air Transport and T’Way, operating 8 new routes from MIA. The new routes include Haikou and Wenzhou in China; Ho Chi Minh city and Haiphong in Vietnam; Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia, the Palau and Pattaya in Thailand.

New facilities

In accordance with the status of Macao as a world centre of tourism and leisure, MIA is constantly upgrading its services, to provide greater convenience to passengers and airlines.  These include advanced IT and web-based technology, integrated service and commercial platforms and online services.

In the first quarter of 2015, the Administration of Airports Limited (ADA) had conducted a survey of passengers on their opinions of the airport, showing the passengers were satisfied on the equipment and level of service. MIA will improve its services, with a remodelling of the duty-free shop and sales counters and recharging of smart phones.”

The company is overlaying the surface of the runway, as part of its regular repair and maintenance after 20 years of use. The resurfacing work will take place at night so as not to impact the operations of the airport. The single runway is sufficient to accommodate more planes.

“The north extension of the terminal building is under way and we are planning a southern extension,” said Chairman Ma in a written interview.

Last September, Macau Civil Aviation Authority President, Simon Chan Weng Hong said that his office had completed an update of the “Macau International Airport Master Plan,” which was released in 2011, covering the airport’s development needs for 20 years.

“The airport will complete the construction of its hangars soon. The construction of an extension of the airport’s north side passenger terminal building started this month and is expected to be completed by the end of 2016. We will discuss with the airport company and airline companies how to improve the situation of delays due to adverse weather,” he said.

Ma said that, as the MSAR government was developing the local tourism industry, the airport saw a steady growth of passengers.


CAM was set up in 1989 and given a 25-year franchise contract to own and manage the airport. In 2001, the MSAR government extended the contract to 2039. The company is responsible for managing the airport, promoting it abroad and licensing firms to offer services within its premises; it must ensure the airport meets international standards.

What has created the success and prosperity of MIA has been the growth of the mainland economy, especially that of South China, and the dramatic increase of visitors into Macao.

The number of passengers grew from 1.3 million in 1998 to 2.9 million in 2003 and 5.1 million in 2008. In 1996, the airport served 18 cities; now it is 43.

Chan said that, while Macao’s population was 600,000, its hinterland included the west side of the Pearl River Delta, including Zhuhai, Zhongshan, Foshan and Jiangmen, with a population of about 10 million. “The income of people in the Pearl River Delta is higher and higher and the number of foreign trips they make is rising every year. This has provided an abundant source of customers for the airport.”

It will benefit in the future from the development of the PRD, the light-rail system from Guangzhou to Zhuhai, the development of Hengqin, the bridge to Hong Kong and the 24-hour opening of the border to Zhuhai. All these will help to provide more visitors to the airport.

Ma said that, to improve the co-operation between the five airports, a regular meeting of their Chairman was established in 2001. “Its objective is to work together, provide mutual support and innovative and common development, promote regional airports in the Pearl River Delta. This is win-win co-operation to achieve a new competing relationship and the development of regional pioneers.”

But it was not always plain sailing. The two most difficult periods were the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2003.

“During SARS, there was one day during which there was only one plane with 25 passengers. Our operations faced a serious challenge,” said Ma. “The development of the airport relied on the support of the motherland and the SAR government, the sympathy of Macao citizens and international recognition.”

In the earlier years, much of its business was transit passengers going between the mainland and Taiwan. In 2008, direct flights between the two began, dealing a serious blow to the airport.

“Before the start of cross-strait flights in 2008, we started the low-cost carrier strategy by introducing Air Asia into Macao in 2004,” said Ma. “So we have smoothly transferred to a more diversified passenger market.”

The airport company has also taken an initiative in line with the MSAR government aim of making Macao a bridge between China and the Portuguese-speaking countries (PSC).

From 2004, it held a meeting every three years of Chinese and PSC airports, to promote co-operation between them in management, construction and operations. It has organised training for professionals in the aviation industry from Mainland China and Macao in the PSCs; until the year of 2015, 533 people have benefitted from this training. (Macao  magazine, text by Mark O’Neill. Photos:  Courtesy of CAM, Sociedade do Aeroporto Internacional de Macau S.A.R.L.)