Beijing : A dragon is rising in the Olympic city of Beijing as the world’s largest airport terminal is about to open for business at the end of February.
“Everything’s going fine and the building will be opened according to plan,” an airport spokesman says. From the air, the 3.5-km-long terminal looks like a giant sleeping dragon lying outside the gates of the Chinese capital.
The dragon shape with its characteristic spiky ridges on the golden brown roof was designed by British architect Sir Norman Foster.
The extension will make Beijing airport one of the five largest airports worldwide, eventually hosting up to 83 million passengers.
The third terminal is to be fully integrated in the airport’s day-to-day business in time for the Olympic Games taking place between Aug 8 and 24, when more than 500,000 foreign visitors are expected in the city.
Already from March onwards, passengers travelling with German carrier Lufthansa and its new Star Alliance partner Air China will be able to check in at the new building.
“Air China is proud to move into Beijing’s new terminal as its flagship airline,” Air China’s vice president Zhang Lan said, calling the project an “impressive new airport complex.” Passengers would be “enthralled by the state-of-the-art service,” she said.
Total investment in the airport extension was $3.7 billion (27 billion yuan), according to official figures. By the end of 2008, the airport with its new terminal is expected to be able to process some 65 million passengers.
“In January and February, there will be three test runs,” the airport operator’s deputy manager, Huang Gang, says. “The test runs will focus on the equipment installed and passenger flow,” he says.
Even the world’s largest passenger plane, the Airbus A380, will be able to land on the new, 3,800-metre runway.
The baggage handling section is one of the largest worldwide and was built by German electronics company Siemens. Suitcases pass along the 68-km conveyor belt system at a speed of ten metres per second. Some 19,200 items of luggage can be moved in an hour.
The old and the new parts of the airport are connected by a 2.2-kilometre tunnel.
“It will take less than 25 minutes to move a suitcase from one plane to another,” Siemens promises.
Construction has been fast. While a project as complex as this one normally takes four to five years to complete, Siemens took only three years to finish the baggage handling system.
Traditional Chinese paintings and cultural artefacts adorn the 600,000-square-metre-wide airport building with its red columns, while 155 dragon-shaped floodlights brighten up its dome.
Shops, restaurants and cafes, such as Olympic souvenir shops or coffee chain Starbucks, are currently furnishing their business space.
An airport train system carrying passengers between terminals – similar to that at Madrid and Atlanta airports – was completed in December.
A new train connection from the airport to the new Dongzhimen underground station in the city and a new motorway are to take the strain off the old airport motorway plagued by increasing queues.
However, as visitor numbers in the Chinese capital are expected to increase significantly in the future, expectations are that the newly extended airport will again be too small within a few years.
So the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has proposed the construction of another international airport at Daxing in Beijing’s south.
The government’s commission for development and reform is currently probing the plans for the new super airport, which would handle 70 to 100 million passengers.