Construction of Beijing Daxing International Airport has been completed after five years of frenzied activity. When the mega-airport begins operation on Sept 30, it will be the world’s largest single-terminal airport at 700,000 square meters – the size of 98 soccer fields.
The 80 billion yuan ($11.7 billion) facility, which is 46 kilometers south of downtown Beijing, will serve as a second international airport for the capital. It is designed to relieve the pressure of rising demand for air travel on Capital International Airport in northeastern Beijing.
With seven runways planned, including one for military use, the new airport will ultimately handle more than 100 million passengers a year, matching Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in the United States. The US airport is currently the world’s busiest, receiving more than 100 million passengers per year, but across two terminals.
Guo Yanchi, chief engineer in charge of construction work at the new Beijing facility, said: “The Daxing airport is the world’s largest integrated transportation hub. The terminal building is also the world’s largest built with a seamless steel structure, boasting the world’s first design of double-deck departure and double-deck arrival platforms.”
In barely seven decades, China has transformed from a nation with a handful of shabby, makeshift airports to being home to aviation superhubs – the result of the country’s rapid economic development and greater openness to the outside world.
According to the Civil Aviation Administration of China, there were 36 airports in 1949, most of which could handle only small aircraft. The number had soared to 236 by the end of June, with about seven new airports coming online each year in the past decade.
Beijing Capital International Airport, the first airport for commercial flights after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, featured just one 2,500-meter runway when it opened in 1958, and had a terminal covering about 100,000 square meters.
“Even during peak time, the airport was only able to handle fewer than 250 passengers per hour, most of whom were government officials,” said Liu Zhaolong, a consultant with the China Civil Airports Association, adding that ordinary citizens at that time had to buy tickets to visit the airport.
Last year, the airport, which now has three terminals but is hitting full capacity, handled more than 100 million passengers, making it the second-busiest in the world after Atlanta’s airport.