Beijing’s massive new airport has been officially cleared for take-off after an expert panel of engineers and officials from China’s Civil Aviation Administration completed an inspection at the end of last month.
But airlines and their ground staff are still working flat out at Daxing International Airport before operations start at the end of September. Daxing, which has four runways, will relieve the strains at the Capital International Airport, which has been bulging at the seams for years.
Major state-owned carriers including Air China, China Southern and China Eastern will move a substantial portion of their operations to Daxing, as the new aviation gateway of northern China aims to poach passengers and cargo from predominant Asian hubs like Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, Seoul and Shanghai.
China Southern, Asia’s largest carrier by fleet size, has also inaugurated a hangar and auxiliary aircraft maintenance facilities, which are capable of housing and servicing up to 12 Airbus A320 narrow-body jets under one roof. The carrier will also run Asia’s largest aviation catering facility there.
China Eastern and its subsidiaries Shanghai Airlines and China United Airlines will operate more than 150 flights between them from Daxing, including international services from Beijing to the United States, United Kingdom, France, Australia, Japan, etc.
China Eastern’s cash cow, the Beijing-Shanghai shuttle express, hopes to cover four routes linking the two cities’ four airports – Beijing’s Capital and Daxing and Shanghai’s Pudong and Hongqiao – with about 30 flights per day to meet the buoyant demand of traffic between the nation’s two largest cities, despite the bullet trains that serve the two cities.
Flag carrier Air China will maintain its primary base at the Capital Airport but will also add new services from Daxing to major cities throughout the nation as well as major hubs across Europe. Hainan Airlines and Shenzhen Airlines have said they will continue to use the existing airport as their base.
In May, Air China landed one of its Boeing 747-8 planes at Daxing when the jumbo jet made a rendezvous with an Airbus A380 fielded by China Southern, plus an Airbus A350 from China Eastern for runway tests.
Carriers from overseas, Hong Kong and Taiwan will operate at both airports. Cathay Pacific, American Airlines, Delta, Finnair, etc, have already announced their respective new routes to Daxing to tap the potential of the new aviation node.
Situated about 46 kilometers south of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, Daxing will serve the Chinese capital and its sprawling conurbation in neighboring Hebei and Tianjin.
In only four years, an army of 10,000 workers has turned large swathes of fallow wasteland into the nation’s newest aviation hub covering an area of 47 square kilometers, roughly two-thirds the size of New York’s Manhattan.
When an inauguration flight takes off from Daxing’s cobweb of runways at the end of September it will open the 80 billion yuan (US$11.8 billion) airport, as well as its 1.03-million-square-meter terminal with 268 jetway bridges, setting into motion China’s lavish celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of the Communist Republic.
Daxing also boasts sky-high ambitions to handle 100 million passengers per year within five to seven years to seize the crown of the world’s busiest airport from Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport in the US.
Daxing’s colossal terminal is a web of concrete, rebar and glass with a central atrium and security hall with five curved spokes, plus five outdoor gardens at the end of the five semi-transparent wings. It is one of the last works of the late architect Zaha Hadid.
But despite its vast size, Daxing’s operator has promised short walking distances, aided by automatic people movers and clear signage. Officials say it is no more than 600 meters from the central security check to the farthest gate in each wing.