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Journal of Transport Geography 22 (2012) 109117

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Journal of Transport Geography

journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/jtrangeo

Network analysis of Chinas aviation system, statistical and spatial structure

Jingyi Lin
Department of Urban Planning and Environment, Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Keywords: Aviation systems are less geographically constrained compared to ground transportation because their
Complex network routes are not so affected by geographical conditions. For this reason, aviation systems are endowed to
Transportation some extent with a distinctive network topology and spatial pattern. In this article, the statistical features
Spatial distance of Chinas aviation system (CAS) are investigated through a complex network approach by examining
Gravitation law
weekly ight patterns. The correlation study proves the existence of a spatial hierarchical structure
within Chinas aviation network, which implies a more complex spatial mechanism. Subsequently the
spatial structure of CAS is explored based on the ight distances between airport cities. In light of three
measurements of node strength, population and GDP, It has been decided that the spatial effect of Chinas
aviation system should be analyzed separately in term of different distance scales. Only for medium- and
long-distance travel, the ight patterns conform to a gravitation law; therefore, the distance dependence
function can be generalized as a scaling relationship. In summary, from a complex network angle, this
paper provides preliminary but enlightening insights to understanding the unique spatial mechanism
of aviation systems.
2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction and spatial characteristics of Chinas aviation system is of the ut-

most interest and importance for researchers.
In our modern information lled society, aviation networks are Generally speaking, the structure of airline systems would be
becoming an essential part of public transportation systems due to directly affected by state policies. As the rst country to attempt
their convenience and efciency. However, these complex systems deregulation of the airline industry, many important lessons from
could easily be affected by various historic, political, economic and the US experiences over the last three decades have been exten-
geographical factors. Beginning with the passage of the Airline sively discussed (Chou, 1993; Bowen, 2002; Goetz and Vowles,
Deregulation Act in the United States in 1978, the spirit of nonin- 2009). Added to this is the commercialization of the airline indus-
terference in the aviation industry has been sweeping the world try and development of low-cost carriers in some European coun-
and creating profound effects worldwide. As the most populous tries (Dobruszkes, 2006; Ison et al., 2011). The hub-and-spoke
country in the world, China also proposed airline reform and dere- network has been widely adopted in the liberalization process. In
gulations in the 1980s, which produced numerous changes in the this sense, how to increase the hub centrality and optimize the net-
airline industry. From 1980 to 2009, the average annual growth work structure is critical for carriers to survive (Fleming and Hay-
rate of Chinas civil aviation was around 17.6%. In the same period, uth, 1994; Bowen, 2002; OConnor, 2003). The evolution and
the number of airports had grown from 77 to 166, which increased efciency of airline systems in some Southeast Asian countries
annual trafc volume from 3.43 million to 230 million. In contrast have also been studied by geographers due to their different pat-
to the market-oriented liberalized environment in the US or Eur- terns of development (Bowen and Leinbach, 1995; OConnor,
ope, macro controls from the government have always played an 1995; Bowen, 2000). In recent years, Chinas dramatic growth in
important role in Chinas aviation industry. The airline consolida- the airline industry has earned much attention from researchers
tion in 2002, to relieve negative effects caused by competition (Wang, 2005; Wang and Jin, 2007). The whole reform process from
among carriers during the deregulation process, is just one exam- a state-owned sector to a prot-seeking industry can be divided
ple. Hence, Chinas aviation system has evolved with its unique into phases based on several signicant events (Shen, 1992; Zhang,
mechanism and structure. In this context, exploring the statistical 1998; Zhang and Chen, 2003; Zhang and Round, 2008; Shaw et al.,
2009). During the consolidation phase, which was marked by the
airline consolidation led by the Civil Aviation Administration of
China (CAAC) in 2002, the current network structure of Chinas
Address: Drottning Kristinas vg 30, 100 44 Stockholm, Sweden. Tel.: +46
aviation system was preliminarily shaped (Jin et al., 2005; Lei
087907342; fax: +46 08 790 8580.
and OConnell, 2011). Shaw et al. (2009) compared the network
E-mail address: jingyil@kth.se

0966-6923/$ - see front matter 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
110 J. Lin / Journal of Transport Geography 22 (2012) 109117

structure and airline competition of different individual carriers by the hub-and-stoke structure of aviation systems, will be de-
before and after the consolidation. They also pointed out that, tected by analyzing the correlation between network indices. Sec-
the Chinese government-led consolidation created three airlines ond, beneting from the complete dataset for all cities and routes,
that had similar geographic coverage but chose distinct hubs to the differences between spatial effects under different distance
avoid direct competition among them. This system made it easier scales in the aviation system are well explained. It will be estab-
for Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou to develop their own interna- lished that short-distance travel should be analyzed separately
tional airline hubs as a result of the consolidation strategy, which from medium- and long-distance travel, which will pave a path
in turn heightened their international competitiveness (Ma and for future works.
Timberlake, 2008; Lei and OConnell, 2011). The remainder of this paper is arranged as follows. Section 2
Network analysis is an old method used in transport geography introduces the study area and data sources, followed by a discus-
to analyze the structure of transport systems (Kansky, 1963; Taaffe sion of methodology in Section 3. In Section 4, in order to under-
et al., 1996). Jin et al. (2004) studied the evolution of network stand the fundamental topological structure of the system, some
structures in 19801998 using domestic air passenger data in important statistical measurements will be discussed for the un-
China, and further concluded that a hub-and-spoke network had weighted network, and then the weighted network by introducing
been developed (Jin et al., 2005). Shaw et al. (2009) also computed weekly ight frequency. Section 5 will reveal the intrinsic spatial
the direct connection index and the shortest-path-connection architecture and impacts imposed by geographic proximity. To
index to assess network accessibility. Nevertheless, this topic be- build on this goal, node strength, population, and GDP will be
gan to garner extensive attention from other disciplines after the adopted to analyze the pattern of route weights based on spatial
popularity of Complex Network Theory in the past decade. Com- distances. Subsequently, conclusions are given in the nal section.
plex network analysis provides a novel and comprehensive view-
point to study both the topological and geometric structure of
2. Study area and data sources
transport systems. An urban bus network in China (Lu and Shi,
2007), the Indian railway system (Sen et al., 2003) and the Seoul
The study area covered the whole of mainland China (except
subway system (Lee et al., 2008) all present small world effects
Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan), including 140 cities with airports
or scale-free distributions, meanwhile the parameters are dis-
and 1044 domestic airlines. There were 166 airports in China by
cussed to some extent. Much larger samples, for example, 22 pub-
2009. Generally speaking, each city represents a single airport.
lic transportation networks in Poland (Sienkiewicz and Hoyst,
For those cities with two airports, the data would be combined.
2005), 14 worldwide public transportation networks (Ferber
However, Chongqing City is the only exception. Even though
et al., 2009), even street networks in 40 US cities (Jiang, 2007) con-
Wanzhou is administratively subordinate to Chongqing, they were
sistently indicate that transportation systems possess the charac-
still studied separately in this paper because of the long spatial dis-
teristics of complex networks. Similar results also apply for
tance between them.1 All regular routes in the ight schedule from
aviation systems. The worldwide airport network exhibits a
2008 to 2009, both directed and stopovers were counted. However,
scale-free property and small-world structure with an average
all international routes were excluded from this research.
path length of around four (Guimer et al., 2005). Besides, many
To measure the trafc volume of corresponding routes, the
national airline networks, such as those of India, China and United
weekly ight frequency was chosen instead of passenger ow,
States, all exhibit smaller average path lengths ranging from 2.067
which was usually adopted by previous researchers. It is because
to 2.4, as well as two-regime power-law degree distributions (Li
the data about weekly ight frequency is available for all levels
and Cai, 2004; Liu and Zhou, 2007; Bagler, 2008; Xu and Harriss,
of cities, even for regional routes. This difference is crucial and will
2008; Wang et al., 2011).
be reected in the following sections. The data presented in this
Nevertheless, these pieces, from a complex network perspective,
paper is mainly based on the ight schedules of 2008 which are
focus less on spatial structures than topological features. Only
published by airlines on their websites, as well as the Yearbook of
Rabasz and Barabasi (2003) mentioned some networks present a
Chinese Transportation and Communications 2009 (YHCTC, 2009).
hierarchical structure, while the distance driven networks, such
For the sake of simplicity, the slight differences between bidirec-
as power grids do not. A few years later, Liu and Zhou (2007) no-
tional ight numbers for a few pairs of cities have been ignored.
ticed the hierarchical architecture of Chinas aviation network and
The population and GDP data of airport cities were taken from
concluded that spatial impacts on it are negligible. Unfortunately
the China City Statistical Yearbook 2009 (NBSC, 2009a) and China
there has been no follow up of systematic research until recently,
Statistical Yearbook for Regional Economy 2009 (NBSC, 2009b). The
when the spatial distance dependence of social interactions was
ight distance between cities was based on the Ticketed Point
established as a gravitation model in empirical analysis (Krings
Mileage (TPM) data which is published by International Air Trans-
et al., 2009; Levy, 2010). These studies were all done by physicists,
port Association (IATA).
who would not pay much attention to geographical factors. In fact,
although physical connections are not required for aviation sys-
tems, locations of airports are xed in space, while extremely long 3. Research methods
routes are rare and small cities usually make use of the adjacent
transfer hubs. In this case, aviation systems always involve the 3.1. Network representation
study of distance, what is the spatial mechanism, therefore, behind
such systems? How does the geographical distance inuence the Complex network analyses must start with the representation
network structure and trafc ow in the systems? To the authors of a real system. According to Graph Theory (Diestel, 2005), a net-
knowledge, they are still topics that require further study and con- work can be generalized as G = (V, E), which is comprised of a ver-
stitute the main motivation of this paper. tex (node) set V and an edge (link) set E. Two nodes, who share a
The aim of this work is to offer a novel perspective to survey the common link, may be regarded as connected or adjacent. More-
topological characteristics and spatial effects of aviation systems. over, in order to store and analyze a network in a computer system
Major contributions of this paper are twofold. First, in contrast to the adjacent matrix was introduced. If there is an edge between
geographical research, the structure of aviation system will be
investigated from a complex network approach from the begin- 1
It is worth mentioning that Wanzhou had been an independent administratively
ning, and then a hierarchical topology, which can be explained city before it became a district of Chongqing city in 1997.
J. Lin / Journal of Transport Geography 22 (2012) 109117 111

two nodes, then the entry element in the matrix is equal to 1, 3.3. Network clustering
otherwise it is 0. Due to the line-by-line topological structure of
aviation systems, it is not imperative to pay extra attention to 3.3.1. Clustering coefcient
the generalization method of networks, so that the underlying The purpose of the clustering coefcient is to quantify the de-
inuences of different representative spaces can be ignored. In this gree of clustering of a graph. The clustering coefcient calculates
work, each city was taken as a node, no matter how many airports the probability that two neighbors of a node are likely connected
it possessed, while regular routes, as indicated above, were estab- with each other (Watts and Strogatz, 1998), which could be de-
lished as edges. ned as,
3.2. Centrality measurements ci 3
ki ki  1
Centrality was originally proposed as a geographical concept in where mi indicates the number of edges between the rst neighbors
the Central Place Theory (Christaller, 1933). It was rstly intro- of node i, and ki which denotes the node degree of i. Then, the clus-
duced in sociology as a fundamental concept for network topolog- tering coefcient of the graph is derived from the average of ci over
ical analysis (Freeman, 1979), and was quickly adopted by a wide all N nodes,
range of other elds.
1 X
C hci i ci 4
N i2N
3.2.1. Node degree and degree distribution
It is believed that the most important node must be the most In terms of the denitions, both ci and C would fall into the range of
active one, so degree centrality indicates the number of edges con- [0, 1].
nected to a node, which is dened based on an adjacent matrix as,
ki aij 1 3.3.2. Characteristic path length
j2Vi Characteristic path length is a global property which is essential
to the topology and communication efciency of networks. It re-
In the equation, V(i) represents the neighbor set of node i, and aij is ects the internal structure of a network because it contains the
the entry value in the adjacent matrix, which is equal to 1 or 0 internal separations of all node pairs.
depending on whether the two nodes are linked or not. Moreover,
1 X
if the degree of a network follows a power-law distribution, then L dij 5
it presents the scale-free property (Barabsi and Albert, 1999). NN  1 ij
Moreover, various centrality measures were also established in
the last decade, including betweenness, closeness, straightness, where N is the number of vertices in the network, and dij indicates
information centrality and so on (Crucitti et al., 2006), which could the distance between two arbitrary vertices in the network. In sum-
capture different characteristics of transport networks (Ma and mary, a high value of clustering coefcient and a short characteristic
Timberlake, 2008; Wang et al., 2011). In this research, only degree path length are acknowledged as two indices for the small-world
is discussed for the following reasons. Firstly, Node degree is the property, which indicates the presence of clustering for real net-
most straightforward index to determine and quantify individual works despite their large size (Watts and Strogatz, 1998).
accessibility, and is most familiar to geographers (Kansky, 1963;
Taaffe et al., 1996). Besides, the denition of node strength for 3.4. Correlation
weighted networks is derived from degree in some sense. Sec-
ondly, it will be used in correlation analyses to identify the mixing 3.4.1. Degreedegree correlation
patterns and hierarchical structure. As a result, due to limited The degreedegree correlation reects a nodes connection pref-
space, it has been selected to represent the node centrality. erence, which can be measured by the relationship between the
node degree and the average degree for all of its connected nodes,
3.2.2. Weight and strength 1 X
Most real networks present a high degree of heterogeneity with K i k kj 6
ki j2Vi
regard to the intensity of communications. In order to manage this
type of diversity, edge weight was proposed to measure the cen- Of which ki is the degree centrality of node i. V(i) includes all neigh-
trality of connections between node pairs. For actual transport sys- boring nodes of i. In this case only the closest neighborhood for the
tems, many different quantities could be considered as weight, node is considered. With this denition, one can probe a networks
including trafc ow, travel times, geodesic distances and so on. mixing pattern (Newman, 2003). If high-degree nodes link prefer-
In this sense, an unweighted network can be seen as a special case entially with each other, this tendency is regarded as assortative
of weighted networks when all edge weights are equal to 1. mixing. In contrast, if high-degree nodes connect preferentially
Given the edge weight, the node strength si can be generated in with low-degree ones, this situation is referred to as disassortative
terms of the denition of node degree, mixing.
si wij 2
3.4.2. Degree-clustering correlation
The scale-free property and high clustering coexist in many real
V(i) represents the neighbor set of node i, while wij indicates the systems. Rabasz and Barabasi (2003) noticed this phenomenon and
weight of the edge between i and j. In our research, the weight wij considered it to be the consequence of a hierarchical organization
of a link from city i to city j is understood as the number of ights of networks, which could be revealed by detecting a scaling law be-
between the cities in 1 week, either from city i to j or from j to i. In tween the node degree and the clustering coefcient of real sys-
this sense, the strength of node i indicates the weekly ight num- tems. On the other hand, geometric factors are considered to
bers departing from or arriving at the city. Weighted networks pro- remove the hierarchy, although no further reasons are given in
vide a good description and explanation for the rich dynamics their work. Four years later, Liu and Zhou (2007) detected a scaling
observed in real systems. correlation between the vertex degree and the clustering
112 J. Lin / Journal of Transport Geography 22 (2012) 109117

coefcient for the aviation system, which challenged the previous of the unweighted aviation network of China is 0.737, very close to
conclusion. However, no spatial analysis followed to explain this the value of the US and a little higher than that of the worldwide
nding. aviation network. In contrast, the result of a random network in
In our research, before discussing the spatial characteristics of the same size with CAS is around 0.107. It is much lower than
Chinas aviation system, this statistical method is adopted as, the real network. The high degree of clustering of Chinas aviation
network indicates that a citys neighbors are also likely to connect
1 X a
Ck Ci  k 7 to each other. As for the individual clustering coefcient, the low-
Nk k k
i est three values 0.169, 0.177 and 0.203 are respectively from Bei-
jing, Guangzhou and Shanghai. In addition, there are 43 cities
In which N(k) indicates the number of nodes whose degree is equal
whose clustering coefcients are equal to 1, and it is worth point-
to k. From the structural perspective, a hierarchical organization im-
ing out that the connections of these cities are all less than 8. This
plies that the small groups of nodes assemble in a hierarchical man-
phenomenon will be clearly explained in terms of the degree pat-
ner, into increasingly large groups.
tern in correlation analysis. Generally speaking, a high clustering
coefcient would indicate an efcient network for travel mobility.
3.5. Using the gravitational model to establish the distance dependence
However, it does not mean that the highest level is the best. In a
statistical sense, a complete graphs clustering coefcient is equal
to 1, which means that every pair of vertices is connected. This,
The Gravitational Model, extended from Newtons Law of Uni-
undoubtedly, creates a situation that is impossible and uneconom-
versal Gravitation, is a valuable branch of spatial interaction mod-
ical for aviation systems.
els in geography. In this research, it is introduced to explain the
As Fig. 1 shows, the node degree of Chinas aviation network fol-
impact of geographic distances on the aviation system. There are
lows a two-regime power-law distribution. It indicates that CAS is
two common forms of the distance decay function in spatial inter-
an evolving scale-free network, with middle-sized cities suffering
action models, including a negative exponential expression derived
from inadequate developments due to the inhibition from few
from the entropy-maximizing theory (Wilson, 1970), and an in-
dominant cities. Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai are the most
verse power law in traditional gravitational studies (Mikkonen
connected cities with degrees of 99, 94 and 86, respectively. How-
and Luoma, 1999). To detect the possible result of distance effects,
ever, the number of links declines rapidly where smaller cities are
a general version could be given as follows,
concerned. Shenzhen, which ranked the 4th, possesses 68 connec-
W ij / Mi Mj f dij 8 tions, while Xiamen (10th) falls to 48 and Hohhot (28th) to 30. This
phenomenon is also validated by averaging all the degrees. The
Wij is the trafc ow between cities i and j, corresponding to the average degree of the whole network is 14.9; however, around
edge weight in the aviation network. Mi and Mj represent a measure- 70% of cities fall below this level. This is also the index with the
ment respectively for the origin and destination cities. In the follow- largest gap between China (14.9) and the US (48.2). During the air-
ing section, three options including the population, gross domestic line consolidation in 2002, three primary carriers including Air Chi-
product (GDP) and node strength will be considered. The three vari- na, China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines, respectively
ables respectively represent demographic, socio-economic and net- established their national hubs as Beijing, Guangzhou and Shang-
work factors of a city. Finally, the distance dependence function f(dij) hai. Other small airlines were merged into these three carriers,
in terms of ight distance dij will be determined by OLS regression. while only a few of the strongest regional airlines survived namely
Hainan, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Sichuan and Shandong (Lei and
4. Statistic characteristics of Chinas aviation network OConnell, 2011). Although some new airlines, such as Spring Air-
lines, China Express Air, Juneyao Airlines, and Capital Airlines and
4.1. Small world and scale-free properties so on, have entered into the system in recent years, they are not
competitive enough to form powerful hubs.
Chinas aviation network presents the small-world property,
which is also found in the US and European countries (Bagler,
2008; Chi et al., 2003; Guimer et al., 2005). The average path 4.2. Distribution of edge weight and node strength
length of the network is 2.108, a little larger than that of the US.
This means, in a statistical sense, passengers can reach any city Most previous researchers chose passenger ow as a weight.
in this network by transferring only once on average. In Chinas However, due to a lack of sufcient data on passenger ow for all
aviation network, only 10% of city pairs are reachable by direct city pairs within CAS, they had to ignore some lighter-trafc regio-
ights. However, with the development of the hub-and-spoke nal routes. In this research, the weekly frequency of ights is used
structure (Jin et al., 2004; Lei and OConnell, 2011), almost 78% of
city pairs in the system are reachable by one transfer or less. The
diameter of the network is 4, which is also the largest topological
Cumulative Probability

distance between cities within this network. Such routes all begin
from Tongren City and travel to 11 isolated cities in Xinjiang Uygur 1
Autonomous Region. Tongren, located in northeast Guizhou Por-
y = 1.147x-0.482
vince, has two air routes to Guiyang and Guilin, which are not pow- 0,1 R2 = 0.980
erful transfer hubs within the network. It is worth mentioning
more about the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region here. It covers y = 1197.4x-2.517
0,01 R2 = 0.966
an area of 1,664,900 km2, which is the largest province in China,
and its ground transport system is underdeveloped due to the
backward economy and complicated geographic conditions. As a 0,001
1 10 100
result, the province has a large number of airports, while most of
them only connect to the provincial capital, Urumqi.
In addition, the clustering coefcient is also an indispensable Fig. 1. Cumulative probability distribution of the node degree of CAS on loglog
measurement for small-world properties. The clustering coefcient scales.
J. Lin / Journal of Transport Geography 22 (2012) 109117 113

to avoid this problem. Fig. 2 describes the distribution of the edge can be referred to as a threshold in the plot. For those cities
weight for 1044 air routes and the node strength for 140 cities on whose degree values are above the average (circles), their de-
loglog scales. The strength of a hub is closely associated with node grees are negatively related to the average degrees of their closet
degree. Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, whose strength values neighbors K(k). Such phenomena indicate the disassortativity for
are 8.339, 7.684 and 6.433 respectively, are the strongest and most these nodes. The higher degree a city has, the lower the average
dominant hubs, followed by some regional hubs, including Shenz- degree for its rst neighbors. Beijing enjoys the highest degree of
hen, Kunming, Chengdu, Chongqing, Xian, etc. The busiest ve 99 in the network and the lowest K(k) of 18.8. In comparison, for
routes connect these regional hubs to national hubs, namely cities whose degree values are below the average (triangles),
BeijingShanghai, ShanghaiShenzhen, ShanghaiChengdu, Bei- there is no distinct correlation between them and their neigh-
jingGuangzhou and GuangzhouChongqing. Comparatively, the bors. For an aviation network, this situation is reasonable. The
cities with lower strength values are mostly located in less devel- dominant cities in the network try to attract more links to rein-
oped regions near the borders, including Xinjiang Uygur Autono- force their dominant position. On the other hand, for low-degree
mous Region, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and so on. For cities two extremes could be expected. First, it would be prefer-
example, the last ve cities according to strength rank are Qiemo, able for low-degree cities to be connected with high-degree cit-
Kuche, Tacheng, Hami and Wuhai, their strength values are all less ies to minimize their operation costs. The maximum K(k) value
than 0.01. Four of them are located in Xinjiang, and the only avail- in Fig. 3 is associated with Wuhai, which only possesses one link
able destination is to the provincial capital Urumqi. Nevertheless, with Beijing. On the other hand, some low-degree cities and
the least frequent routes do not exist between them. There are 29 medium-degree cities are connected with each other for special
city pairs that only allow one ight per week, some of which are city functions or because of location constraints. For example,
very far away from each other; XianLhasa and ShanghaiJiamusi the minimum K(k) value for low-degree cities is associated with
are examples. Qiemo, located in the southern part of Xinjiang Province. This
Remarkably, the distribution of the edge weight and the node city has two airlines, one of which is paired with a two-degree
strength both obey a two-regime power law instead of a standard city, Kuerle.
scaling distribution. The reason for this may be that the dominant
hubs in CAS are not powerful enough to form strict power-law
4.3.2. Hierarchical structure of Chinas aviation system
behaviors. A brief review on the policy changes of the airline indus-
try could help explain this phenomenon more clearly. Because of Fig. 4a describes the relationship between the clustering coef-
cient C(k) and the node degree. Considering the weighted network,
the airline deregulation on market and route entry in 1997, many
new regional airlines were established, leading to a signicant in- the relationship between the clustering coefcient and the node
strength is also presented (Fig. 4b). Clearly, they display similar
crease of routes between their base cities and domestic major cities.
In this period, these regional hubs experienced growth in air trafc, patterns. However, it is worth noting that the clustering coefcient
is not independent of the node centrality but follows a scaling law
which diverted the trafc from neighboring cities to some extent.
For example, the increase of air passengers in Guangzhou was rela- in terms of the centrality (Fig. 4). This conclusion is consistent with
the ndings of Liu and Zhou (2007). The higher degree or strength a
tively slow due to the growth of Shenzhen, which is only 170 km
from Guangzhou. Furthermore, in response to years of operating city has, the smaller its clustering coefcient becomes. In other
words, the low-degree cities are more inclined to be clustered. As
loss caused by the Southeast Asian nancial crisis, CAAC in 2002
planned to open a number of regional routes, which were prohib- mentioned above, the degree values of the 43 cities with clustering
coefcients of one are consistently placed between two to eight.
ited from stopping in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Five years
later, CAAC further decided to take control of the air trafc volume Indeed, those high-degree or high-strength node cities, which act
as regional hubs or national hubs in the aviation network, such
in some extremely busy airports from August 2007 to March 2008.
To sum up, these measures, to varying extents, have hindered the as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen, provide powerful
scaling distributions of node strength and edge weight. bridge roles that their neighbors are not necessarily connected di-
rectly with each other, resulting in a small C(k). It is also worth
mentioning that gateway cities usually have lower clustering coef-
4.3. Correlation analysis cients which are not commensurate with their centrality values.
For example, the clustering coefcient of Urumqi is 0.417, even
4.3.1. Mixing pattern lower than Chengdus 0.421, while their strength values are
Fig. 3 illustrates the degree correlation for CAS. It has been respectively 1.448 and 4.161. Hohhot is another example of this
calculated that the average degree of the network is 14.9, which phenomenon.

10 10
1 10 100 1000 0,001 0,01 0,1 1 10
Cumulative Probability

Cumulative Probability


0,1 y = 0.211x-0.355
y = 2.689x -0.814
0,1 R2 = 0.973
R2 = 0.904

0,01 y = 0.293x-1.543
0,001 y = 620.96x -2.204 R2 = 0.977
R2 = 0.981
(a) (b)
0,0001 0,001
Weight Strength

Fig. 2. Cumulative probability distribution of (a) the weight distribution of 1044 routes, and (b) the strength distribution for 140 cities in the aviation network on loglog
114 J. Lin / Journal of Transport Geography 22 (2012) 109117

120 90

80 60
K (k)

60 y = -0.411x + 54.876
R2 = 0.922 40
40 30
0 0
0 20 40 60 80 100 120 200 700 1200 1700 2200 2700 3200 3700
Degree Distance
Fig. 3. The node degree correlation of CAS. Fig. 5. The histogram of geographical distances between city pairs in CAS.

In some sense, the hierarchy is consistent with the hub-and- makes aviation systems different from distance-driven ground
spoke structure of aviation systems. Each carrier has its own transport systems, just as the correlation studies implied. How-
geographical coverage and development orientations, to enhance ever, how do aviation networks get rid of spatial effects, if indeed
the competitiveness of its base cities. An initial hub-and-spoke net- they do? The real situation is complex and understanding its spa-
work would be constructed to offer ights from one or multiple tial mechanism becomes interesting and challenging. This section
hubs to spoke cities (OKelly, 1998; Shaw et al., 2009). Taking the will present some ndings about the geographical characteristics
Sichuan Airlines as an example, its goal is to develop Chengdu, and the distance effects on trafc ow within Chinas aviation
the provincial capital of Sichuan Province, into the southwest network.
portal of CAS. However, after the airline consolidations in 2002, it
became very difcult for regional airlines to compete with the
three major airlines. Instead, they chose to join with a major carrier 5.1. Spatial distribution of ight distances and trafc ow
and integrate their internal modules. Therefore, many peripheral
cities, acting as the branch terminals, became organized into a Firstly, in terms of the distances of 1044 routes for each con-
sub-network with a regional hub, and later into large networks nected city pair, the shortest route in Chinas aviation network is
with national hubs in a hierarchical manner. 142 km, from Haikou city to Zhanjiang city, while the longest is
In this research, the hierarchical structure of Chinas aviation 3939 km, from Fuzhou to Urumchi. The range spans three orders
network is captured from the topological perspective. On the other of magnitude of distance, indicating the network is geographically
hand, as mentioned at the beginning of this paper, it is undeniable large enough for empirical analysis. The histogram for the ight dis-
that an aviation network exhibits meaningful spatial implications tances of 1044 city pairs is given in Fig. 5, with an average distance
and is fundamentally spatially-oriented. Either the operation cost of 1200 km. 89% of the routes are shorter than 2000 km, of which
or trafc ow are closely related to the distance between two cit- approximate 66% fall into the range from 500 km to 1500 km.
ies, making the geography an indispensable force throughout the According to the statistical data, the average distance for domestic
evolving process of an aviation system. This became a challenge air travel in China was 1238 km in 2001 and 1300 km in 2008
to the view of Rabasz and Barabasi (2003) that hierarchy is absent (YHCTC, 2002, 2009), which falls well within the average route
in distance-driven networks. These seemingly contradictory prop- length. The trafc data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics
ositions illustrate the uniqueness of aviation systems and prove in the United States also reveal a similar pattern, in that the passen-
that further studies on their spatial patterns are merited. ger trip length was 1395 km in 2009 and 1405 km in 2010 for
domestic airline travel (BTS, 2010). These data from two countries
are strikingly consistent. In comparison, the average distance for
5. Spatial network structure of Chinas aviation system domestic railway travel in China slightly increased from 470 km
in 2001 to 532 km in 2008 (MRC, 2002, 2009). High speed rail sys-
As emphasized earlier in this paper, it is not necessary to set up tems even possess overwhelming advantages for those trips which
physical routes in real aviation systems to avoid the limitations of are shorter than 600 km (Liu, 2009). Based on these data, domestic
certain geographical factors to some extent. This unique property aviation transportation in China could be divided into different

1.2 1.2
Clustering Coefficient
Clustering Coefficient

0.8 0.8

0.4 0.4

(a) (b)
0 0
0 50 100 150 0 5 10
Degree Strength

Fig. 4. The scaling correlation between two node centrality indices and the clustering coefcient (Plot (a) depicts the relationship between degree centrality and clustering
coefcient, while plot (b) is for node strength and clustering coefcient. Due to the positive correlation between degree and strength, these two plots share a similar trend).
J. Lin / Journal of Transport Geography 22 (2012) 109117 115

2500 to construct many long routes. This situation is benecial from a

passengers perspective as well. Transferring in a hub city during
2000 a long journey always means much cheaper tickets and more travel
Weekly flight flow

options, which results in a more convenient and exible travel

1500 experience. For example, there were only four direct ights per
week from Changchun to Sanya, which are 3700 km away from
1000 each other. In contrast, there were 118 ights from Changchun to
Beijing, and 39 ights from Beijing to Sanya. However, accurate pat-
500 terns cannot be detected just in view of these intuitive plots. The
next section will provide a more thorough analysis based on the
0 gravitation law, which is effective in revealing the spatial interac-
0 550 1050 1550 2050 2550 3050 3650
tions between two places.

Fig. 6. The distribution of ight ows on spatial distances in CAS.

5.2. Distance decay effects in Chinas aviation system

In this section, Eq. (3) is adopted as the base model. Firstly, the
levels in terms of the ight distance, i.e. the short-haul trip, which is node strength (si), which represents the total number of ights in a
less than 500 km, the medium-distance trip between 500 and city according to the network denition, is used to measure Mi and
2000 km, and the long-distance trip, more than 2000 km. Fig. 6 also Mj. Fig. 7 shows the relationship between Wij and si  sj, and the
presents a similar pattern. Almost 80% of the domestic trafc ow slope indicates f(dij) according to Eq. (3). Plot (a) represents the city
moves between 500 and 2000 km, while only 7.6% accounts for pairs whose distances are less than 500 km, and no clear pattern is
longer trips of 2000 km or more. Indeed, due to the small world detected. Plot (b) represents a distance around 1000 km and plot
property of the airline network, several major cities can be conve- (c) represents 2000 km, Wij is proportional to si  sj in both plots,
nient transfer options for passengers, so that carriers do not need and the slopes are respectively equal to 6.569 and 3.641. In plot

160 500

400 Slope=6.569

(a) (b)
0 0
0 10 20 0 40 80
Si*Sj Si*Sj

250 40

200 Slope=3.641 Slope=2.819


(c) (d)
0 0
0 20 40 60 0 5 10 15
Si*Sj Si*Sj

Fig. 7. The dependence of ight ows on strength and distance (Plot (a) depicts the distribution of weight in terms of si  sj for all city pairs whose distance is below 500 km;
Plot (b) is for 9001100 km; Plot (c) is for 18002200 km, and plot (d) is for the city pairs whose distances are above 2800 km).

Table 1
Regression results of the gravitation model for different Mi and Mj measurements.

Parameter Strength-based (si  sj) Population-based (pi  pj) GDP-based (gi  gj)
Suitable distance (km) >474 >145 >577
f(dij) a  da a  e1/d a  da a  da
Decay coefcient 0.697 0.920 0.702
R2 0.956 0.988 0.892 0.911
116 J. Lin / Journal of Transport Geography 22 (2012) 109117

(d), the linear relationship is much weaker for the city pairs with clustering coefcient is 0.737, which brings to mind the small world
dij > 2800 km having a slope of 2.819. In conclusion, the linear rela- property of Chinas aviation system. In addition, the degree distri-
tionship between the weight and the product of city strengths are bution of the system shows a two-regime power law instead of a
revealed for different dij by Fig. 7bd, which is consistent with Eq. perfect scale-free property. The reason can be partly attributed to
(3). Furthermore, the slopes decrease in terms of the distance, the uniquely evolving process and to state-led deregulation.
preliminarily suggesting that f(dij) should be a decreasing function. Although national hubs, namely Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou,
Additionally, two socio-economic factors, population and GDP have dominated the network nationally, the centrality of regional
are also employed for comparison. For each measurement, the va- hubs or sub-regional hubs is still underdeveloped in China. The re-
lue of Wij/Mi  Mj for 1044 city pairs is calculated and the statistical sult of the average degree of CAS, which is around 15 and far below
results are reported in Table 1. Similar patterns are detected for the the value of 48 as in the United States, also illustrated the
strength and GDP measurements. The decay coefcients are both phenomenon.
around 0.7 and the suitable distance ranges are similar. But the Disassortative mixing and the hierarchical structure of Chinas
population measurement generates completely different results. aviation network are revealed by correlation analysis. A high-de-
First, the suitable distance limit is 145 km, much less than the oth- gree city is inclined to possess a lower average degree and cluster-
ers. In addition, the data series ts better to a logarithmic hyper- ing coefcient. Beijing, as the most connected hub in the network,
bolic model than to a scaling relationship. The reason for this enjoys the highest degree of 99 as well as the lowest K(k), 18.8, and
may be ascribed to the disturbance by an anomalous city pair, the smallest clustering coefcient 0.169. Although the hierarchical
i.e. ChengduJiuzhaigou in Sichuan Province. Jiuzhaigou County lo- topology coincides with the nding of Liu and Zhou (2007), it by no
cated in the northwest part of Sichuan Province. Its population was means proves that aviation systems can escape geographical ef-
63,600 in 2008, and it is the smallest city in this research. Although fects as they suggested. On the contrary, it suggests a more com-
it is only 245 km away from the province capital, Chengdu, it still plex and interesting spatial mechanism to be discovered. In part
handles huge ight trafc due to its outstanding tourism industry this is because geographical effects are not simply to be seen as
and inconvenient geographical location. The ground transportation an elementary limitation of spatial distance. Optimizing the net-
system is underdeveloped and laborious due to the fact that it is work structure under distance constraints is of most signicance
such a mountainous area. For this reason, ying is the most popu- for aviation systems. In some sense, the hierarchical topology re-
lar mode of transportation, and the regional hub, Chengdu, is the ects a hub-and-spoke structure, which is widely adopted by avi-
best transfer choice for most tourists whose destination is Jiuzhai- ation systems.
gou. Consequently an extremely high value of Wij/pi  pj is main- This paper proposes that the spatial pattern for CAS should be
tained for this pair. However, deleting the data related to this studied under separate distance scales. Trafc ow for city pairs
pair under the population measurement will yield similar results with short distances is mostly inuenced by city functions rather
with GDP and node strength measurements. than geographical proximity. For example, the airline routes, such
Despite this slight anomaly, Table 1 conveys an indisputable as JiuzhaigouChengdu, WuyishanXiamen, and Zhangjiajie
impression. For Chinas aviation system, the distance dependence Changsha, endure huge trafc ow as a result of their tourism
can only be detected for medium-and long-distance travel, and industry. Moreover, the competition from ground transportation
the decay effect can be characterized by a general scaling relation- systems further hindered the emergence of a clear law for the
ship. Some reasons for this conclusion are as follows. First, many short-haul travel. In contrast, for medium- and long-distance travel,
short airline routes are constructed for economical, geographical, the trafc ow exhibits apparent distance dependence. It can be
political and other reasons, which are less affected by spatial dis- further summarized as a general gravitational law. In other words,
tances. For example, JiuzhaigouChengdu (245 km), Huangshan the trafc volume between two cities is proportional to the product
Hefei (255 km), ZhangjiajieChangsha (266 km), LijiangKunming of their centrality measurements, and inversely proportional to
(314 km) and WuyishanXiamen (362 km) routes all connect fa- their geographical distance. Aviation systems are most competitive
mous tourism cities to their provincial capitals, which act as regio- on the medium-distance travel market, but the small world prop-
nal hubs. Secondly, medium-length trips are the most competitive erty and the hierarchical structure have further extended the com-
for aviation systems. Railway systems and highway systems take petitive advantage to long-haul travel.
on the majority of trafc ow for short-distance trips, especially In summary, Chinas aviation system has undergone rapid
because the ground transport networks are becoming more and development since the open door policy in 1978. Distinct from
more convenient and fast. The emerging growth of high speed rail the airline deregulation experienced by western countries in a
in China since 2006 is bound to become a critical challenge for avi- market-oriented environment, China has gone through a state-
ation systems. In Europe, the high speed rail systems, including led liberalization stage. During this process, many crucial institu-
Eurostar, TVG and Renfe, etc., have greatly affected the develop- tional and structural characteristics have emerged and deserve
ment of the airline industry. How to optimize the network struc- more attention. This article is exploratory, but raises various inter-
ture, increase the market quota for medium-distance travel and esting questions on how to optimize the network structure to cope
enhance competitive advantages for long-distance travel are ur- with the emerging challenges caused by improvement of railway
gent questions that the airline industry must consider. Lastly but and highway systems, especially the worldwide appearance of high
not the least important, although ight ow decays with distance speed rail systems. As well as how to minimize the transfer time
according to the gravitation law, it does not mean that the compar- and improve the transfer service to enhance overall competitive-
ative advantage of aviation systems for long-distance transport is ness of aviation systems on medium- and long-haul trips. More de-
weakened. On the contrary, the small world property and the hier- tailed and dynamic analysis can be expected when international
archical structure of aviation networks could produce more poten- routes are added and longitudinal data for individual airlines be-
tial to facilitate long-distance mobility. come available.

6. Conclusion Acknowledgments

This paper has explored the statistical properties and spatial The author would like to thank Dr. Yanguang Chen for his help-
characteristics of Chinas aviation system under a complex ful suggestions on the data processing. Many thanks owe to Dr. Bin
network framework. The average path length is 2.108 and overall Jiang and Dr. Yifang Ban for the valuable comments to improve the
J. Lin / Journal of Transport Geography 22 (2012) 109117 117

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