Beijing's newest airport opens door to the world

2019-09-26 02:58:12 GMT2019-09-26 10:58:12(Beijing Time) Sina English
A C-shape pillar at the terminal building at the airport which can support the mega structure, while also allowing plenty of natural light through more than 8,000 rooftop windows.  A C-shape pillar at the terminal building at the airport which can support the mega structure, while also allowing plenty of natural light through more than 8,000 rooftop windows.

Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the grand opening of Beijing's Daxing International Airport, one of the world's largest, on Wednesday morning.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China issued the operational certificate to the Daxing airport authority shortly before noon, meaning commercial flights can take off and land at the airport.

Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng said at the launching ceremony that the Daxing airport is expected to enhance the international competence of China’s civil aviation industry, help the nation’s opening up, rebalance the non-capital function of Beijing as well as promote the integrated development of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area.

“Safety, comfortable and convenience should become the focus of the new airport,” Han said.

An Airbus 380, the world’s biggest airliner, operated by the airport’s main tenant China Southern Airlines, took off from the mega airport at 4:23pm. It landed at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport around 7pm.

Later flights by other major domestic carriers operating at the airport, including China Eastern, Air China and China United Airlines, also take off with airliners such as the Airbus 350 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Crew members greet the first batch of passengers to the Daxing airport beside a line of self-service check-in machines.  Crew members greet the first batch of passengers to the Daxing airport beside a line of self-service check-in machines.

Zhang Tao, 50, the most senior captain with China Southern and a trainer for A380, piloted the Superjumbo to take off from the new airport.

“Though I’ve been flying for over 19,000 hours, this flight is my most unforgettable journey,” Zhang said. “The visibility is great and the aircraft took off steadily and smoothly,” he added.

The airport, considered a marvel of China’s logistical planning, architecture and economic integration, is located near the junction of Beijing's Daxing District and Langfang in north Hebei Province. It is at a central locality in north China, about 46 kilometers away from the Tiananmen Square, 55 kilometers away from north China’s Xiongan New Area and 82 kilometers from the Tianjin municipality.

The airport is designed to resemble the shape of a feather from a phoenix, a bird-like creature from ancient Chinese mythology. It aims to meet the country's soaring air-service demand and relieve pressure on Beijing's existing Capital International Airport.

Passengers walk through the fourth floor at the terminal building at the Daxing airport on Wednesday.  Passengers walk through the fourth floor at the terminal building at the Daxing airport on Wednesday.

Covering a land area of 47 square kilometers, the new airport doubles the size of the Capital International Airport, which is currently the largest in China. It boasts a terminal equivalent to the size of 97 soccer pitches along with faster security check and boarding procedures powered by facial recognition and artificial intelligence.

It is expected to handle 45 million passengers annually by 2021 and 72 million by 2025, making it one of the busiest airports in the world, on par with Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in the United States.

Four runways are operating upon opening of the first phase, with a total of seven runways planned to handle the growing number of air travelers to and from the capital.

In 2018, more than 100 million travelers passed through the three terminals of the capital international airport, making it one of the busiest in the world.

An east-west runway, being almost vertical to three south-north runways, only handles takeoff aircraft to improve operational efficiency in the air and double its hourly capacity to 60 airliners, said Yan Xiaodong, an official with the air traffic controller for north China.

Construction on the US$11.3 billion project began in 2014, with more than 40,000 workers on site at its peak.

Sprawling starfish

Nicknamed the "starfish" for the shape of its five extending structures connected to a main hall, the airport aims to reduce walking for passengers. The distance between security checkpoints to gates is no more than 600 meters, equal to about eight minutes of walking.

The five extending hallways also allow a total of 79 aircraft to berth, more than other airports in the same size, said Wang Qiang, who takes charge of the planning and designing of the project.

The five-story terminal building, with two underground levels, said to be the world’s largest stand-alone terminal building, features eight C-shaped pillars to support the mega structure, while also allowing plenty of natural light through more than 8,000 rooftop windows.

The windows designed according to the climate there can bring natural light to 70 percent areas of the terminal, while protecting 60 percent of the heat radiation during the hottest period between noon and 2pm to largely reduce the energy consumption, Wang said.

Two departure levels have been designed for the terminal to handle the large number of expected travelers. A subway system connecting the airport with Beijing's city center is located in the underground floor of the terminal.

City connections

The new subway connection for the Daxing airport opened on September 15. It links the airport to Caoqiao Station, which is 41 kilometers away from the airport and close to downtown Beijing. Running at 160kmph, the train will take 19 minutes to reach the city from the airport.

Passengers can check in their luggage six hours prior to their flight at a city terminal building at the Caoqiao Station. Two counters for international flights and another two for domestic routes have opened at the station. The subway trains have specialized luggage compartments to ensure the safety and accuracy, said Yang Ke, operational deputy manager at the subway station.

An express highway built for the Daxing airport also connects directly to the terminal building, along with other expressways and railway system to compose an integrated transportation hub.

Facial recognition

The airport, along with the operating airlines, has installed over 400 self-service check-in and luggage machines, accounting for 80 percent of all the airport’s check-in facilities. Passengers no longer need to print a boarding card, but can pass through security checks and board aircraft by scanning their faces.

Thanks to the new technology, the security check standpoints at the new airport can handle 260 travelers per hour, comparing with the 180 average capacity in other major domestic airports. Passengers are expected to spend no longer than five minutes to finish security checks even during peak hours.

The whole boarding procedure has been paperless which help to save about 20 minutes for each passenger, said Wang Hui, an official with the management center of the Daxing airport.

The Shanghai-based China Eastern, along with Huawei and China Unicom, has established its facial recognition system based on 5G network technology at the airport that allows passengers to finish ticket purchases, check-in, luggage check, security check and boarding by having their faces scanned, the carrier said.

The airline has also launched the world’s first electronic luggage tag, which allows travelers to check in and track their bags via their mobile phones.

China Southern, the biggest operator at the new airport to handle 40 percent of the total number of travelers, has launched an AI robot named Xiao Nan to assist passengers at the self-service counters. It can offer information on flight, traffic, airport bus and facilities inside the airport along with other guidance and consulting services.

China Southern has also built the largest airport hangar in Asia at the airport, which can serve two Airbus 380 Superjumbos simultaneously.

China Eastern and China Southern will relocate 10 percent of their flights to Daxing airport. China United Airlines, Capital Airlines, Hebei Airlines and Xiamen Airlines will also be among the first batch of carriers to relocate to the new facility.

China Eastern will keep operating most of its highly profitable Beijing-Shanghai express flights to the capital airport, but relocate some flights to the Daxing airport in winter, the Shanghai-based carrier said.

Apart from them, over 50 domestic and overseas carriers have announced that they would set up bases at the new airport. The first batch of overseas carriers include British Airways, British Airways and Malaysia Airlines.

With the opening of the airport, an international airport zone around the new mammoth aviation hub has been sprung up. In the Beijing part of the zone covering 50 square kilometers, nearly 260,000 residents will live and work with 200,000 jobs created.

Cui Xiaohao, deputy director of the Beijing’s development and reform commission, said the new airport will become an important economic pillar in the development of Beijing and help rebalance the city’s southern area.

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