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Beijing's new Daxing airport opens

Chinese President Xi Jinping has officially opened the new mega-airport at Daxing, outside Beijing, hailed as the biggest flight hub by surface area in the world. Beijing's new airport started operations on Wednesday, giving travellers an alternative to the city's now crowded Capital International Airport. Image -

The new airport is reportedly the biggest airport in the world by surface area. It covers some 70 hectares (173 acres), and the terminal's starfish-shaped structure was purposely designed to shorten walking times for passengers.

Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid designed the building before her death in 2016, but the airport took less than five years to build after starting construction in late 2014. The airport authorities predict it will handle up to 72 million passengers per year by 2025 and around 100 million upon reaching full capacity in 2040.

At the launch ceremony on Wednesday, overseen by President Xi Jinping, Chinese officials hailed it as a "new powerful source of national development."

While reports vary on the construction's cost, the AFP news agency reported expenses reached some 120 billion yuan ($16.9 billion, €15.3 billion) for the airport and another 280 billion yuan to build new rail and road links. Travellers taking an express train from Daxing will take some 20 minutes to reach the city as the airport is located about 46 kilometers (29 miles) south from Beijing's city centre, which is almost twice as far as the old airport in the city's northeast.

Left - President Xi Jinping opens the airport (Reuters/T. Suen)

The opening comes just days before China is set to mark a 70-year-anniversary of its Communist state. China is also set to overtake the United States as the world's largest aviation market by 2022.

According to state agency the Global Times, seven domestic airlines were expected to begin operations out of the new airport on opening day. The first flight - a China Southern Airlines A380 - took off at 16:23 local time, and international carriers including British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Finnair have already announced routes to the new airport.

With the opening of the airport, Beijing has joined a group of cities, including London, that have two-long haul international airports, with more than 100 million passengers having used Beijing Capital.

The land on which Beijing Daxing International Airport has been built, was once a remote area that few ever had reason to visit. But the announcement of the new airport, along with a plan to relocate some government administrative functions there, has driven the development of the Daxing district.

Cui Xiaohao, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Commission of Development and Reform, said the airport, through its five years of construction, had become an important economic pillar in the development of southern Beijing because it will help rebalance the city’s southern area with the crowded central part. "Daxing airport is opening the south gate of the capital and will help gradually shift Beijing’s non-capital functions to neighbouring locations and upgrade the region’s transport, especially in the south. It’s also a good way to boost co-ordinated development of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area."

Image - Bildfunk/Xin Hua/Z. Chenlin

Li Jianhua, 49, deputy director of the new airport terminal, said that during construction he was on standby 24 hours a day, and when minor problems occurred could get to the scene in 15 minutes to direct operations. He has helped build terminals at four airports, but Daxing means the most to him, he said. He has spent more than four years at the site and supervised the rise of the new terminal, a stunning modern architectural achievement.

Said to be the world’s largest single terminal building, it covers 7.53 million sq ft, equivalent to the size of 98 football fields. "There were no precedents or standards in China before about how to support such a huge structure, and we delved into many ways to tackle the problem," Mr Li said. "We designed two railways and developed specialised small trains to carry construction materials conveniently. The building materials [were] thus delivered to the terminal building efficiently."

Image - Getty

Another big challenge faced by the construction team was how to deal with the fragile geological characteristics of Daxing district. A lot of time was invested in solving problems through trial and error, Mr Li said. One result was that a problematic riverbed with a direct effect on railways was turned into an advantage in the end. "We finally handled the issue through the use of special structures and equipment."

A special intelligent lighting system is another part of the design. It eliminates the need to have lights on at certain times, and natural illumination saves energy. Mr Li said more than 20,000 lights are installed in Terminal 3 of Beijing Capital International Airport, but only about 3,000 were needed at the Daxing airport. In addition to energy-efficient lighting, the new airport uses other advanced techniques to save energy. For example, infrastructure such as the rail transit system and runways use energy-saving materials.

In July last year Beijing Daxing International Airport Area became the first jurisdiction in China to have the platinum level under the pilot rating system for LEED (Leadership in Environmental Energy Design) certification, an internationally recognised standard of energy efficiency. It is also the first such project in the world to gain LEED certification for cities in the planning and design rating system, the United States Green Buildings Council said.

"Capital International Airport serves more than 100 million passengers a year, exceeding its maximum operating design limit," continued Mr Li.

"There exists a large gap in meeting the demand for international airline routes at Capital International Airport", added Cui Xiaohao. "The capital’s overall airline service capacity needs to be improved. Daxing International Airport will further expand and complete the global airline route network in Beijing, making the capital a true international exchange centre".

By 2021 the new airport is expected to be handling 45 million passengers a year, and by 2025, 72 million. In the long term, it will be able to handle more than 100 million passengers a year, becoming one of the world’s busiest transport hubs. Under a plan approved in 2016 by the State Council, Beijing will work with neighbouring Hebei province in building up an airport economic zone with total investment of more than 200 billion yuan.

The future production value of the new airport will reach 1.6 trillion yuan, the plan suggests. The Hebei provincial government also plans to develop several areas of Langfang, along with Gu’an and Yongqing counties — neighbouring Beijing’s southern suburbs — as the new airport economic zone that will house some of the high-technology functions being moved from Beijing.

Image - South China Morning Post

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