Beijing Opens Biggest Airport Terminal Ahead of Games

Feb. 29 -- Beijing Capital International Airport Co.'s third terminal, bigger than all five terminals at London's Heathrow, opens today, helping the city expand its air-passenger capacity as it prepares for the summer Olympics.

The terminal, designed to evoke Chinese icons such as the flying dragon and the imperial capital's Forbidden City, is the world's biggest building, housing 1.3 million square meters (14 million square feet) of floor space, according to a release from the designer, London-based architecture firm Foster & Partners.

The Chinese government has hired architects from Europe and Australia to design marquee projects to present an international image in the lead-up to this summer's Games. The terminal, like most of the Olympic venues, was completed ahead of schedule.

``Remarkably, it was commissioned and completed in a little over four years, less than the time it took to organize and conduct the public inquiry for Terminal 5 at Heathrow,'' Norman Foster, one of the architects, said in a statement.

The terminal cost 27 billion yuan ($3.8 billion) to complete, more than double what the city spent to build and refurbish sporting venues for the games.

Beijing is investing more than $67 billion on infrastructure projects including roads, subways, sports stadiums and the new terminal ahead of the country's first Olympics. The games will be held Aug. 8 to 24.

City Image

Its 360,000 square meters of gold roof are intended to echo the imperial color used to top the buildings of Beijing's 600- year-old Forbidden City complex. Inside, skylights set into the ceiling allow natural light to illuminate and heat the interior.

Measuring 2.95 kilometers (1.83 miles) from end to end, the terminal will double aircraft stands and will enable the entire airport to handle 76 million passengers a year by 2015, according to the National Development and Reform Commission.

The facility will host 26 airlines, according to Beijing Capital International. The first six including Sichuan Airlines and Qantas Airways Ltd. will start using it immediately, while the rest begin on March 26.

The first passengers of the day, from a Shandong Airlines flight from Ji'nan, 200 miles south of Beijing, disembarked at 8:50 a.m., the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

``The new terminal will help change people's view on Beijing airport, known for congestion and flight delays,'' said Roslyn Ji, an analyst at Core Pacific-Yamaichi International Ltd. in Hong Kong. ``The capital's airport really needs more space.''

Extra Visitors

Beijing is expected to host an additional 1.5 million visitors during the Olympic Games. A third runway opened in October 2007.

The third terminal and runway will triple the annual landings and takeoffs to 600,000 aircraft, according to the airport operator. A metro line connecting the airport with downtown Beijing will open before the Olympics, the General Administration of Civil Aviation said in a statement today.

Construction took three years and nine months and used 50,000 workers, according to the National Development and Reform Commission. Nine villages and 10,000 people were displaced in the process, it also said.

The terminal will adopt an automated people mover system which connects buildings for the first time in mainland China, according to General Administration of Civil Aviation. With four- kilometer-long rails, the system is able to transport 8,200 passengers per hour.


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