(NPR) When you drive the new expressway to the airport in the Chinese city of Luliang, you are as likely to come across a stray dog as another vehicle. When I recently drove it, a farmer was riding in a three-wheel flatbed truck and heading in the wrong direction. But it didn't matter. There was no oncoming traffic.
That's because the city's $160 million airport, which opened in 2014, gets at most five flights a day and as few as three. Officials began building the airport when this coal town was still booming. Since then, though, global commodity prices have plunged as China's old industrial economy has sputtered. The airport has become a white elephant.
"Because this place is economically backward, the flow of passengers is small," says Wu Dexi, a local corn and tomato farmer who brought his 78-year-old mother to the empty terminal because she wanted to see an airplane for the first time. "People's income is too low, they can't afford this."
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