Beijing opened its newest airport terminal on Friday, a gargantuan glass-and-steel creation built to accommodate a surge in visitors for the Summer Olympics.
Dozens of passengers from Terminal 3’s first domestic flight to arrive – an hour-long jaunt from Shandong province in China’s east – were welcomed with flower bouquets. A British Airways flight from London landed a few hours later.
A group of 10 musicians played string instruments at an opening ceremony attended by Chinese officials. Floors were highly polished and glass windows gleamed.
“It is the epitome of China’s fast-growing economy and portrays our strong state power,” said Zhang Guobao, deputy director of National Development and Reform Commission, the country’s main economic planning agency.
The 1.3 million square meter- (14 million square foot-) big terminal and ground transportation center are the centerpiece project for the Olympics designed to relieve the overloaded airport’s other two terminals and accommodate expected rapid growth in the number of visitors to the capital.
Airport officials have said that at least 64 million passengers are expected to come through this year, up from 50 million last year and 20 million in 2000.
On Friday, passenger loads were still light and there were no lines in sight at check-in counters. Small groups of visitors clustered around viewing galleries to watch planes land and take off.
Terminal 3, its runway and most of the related infrastructure were built in just under four years, with a compressed timetable to ensure it was ready for the August 8-24 Olympics, a source of immense pride for China.
The building’s deep red pillars and matte gold roof are meant to evoke Beijing’s imperial palaces and temples. Triangular skylights which open out onto the gently sloping roof give an airy feeling to the terminal, which houses 64 Western and Chinese restaurants, 90 retail shops, and a state-of-the-art-baggage handling system.
A high-speed commuter train will whisk passengers into the city in the coming months and the runway is capable of handling Airbus’ huge A380 superjumbo.
“We have provided a venue with safe and highly efficient service for the much-anticipated Beijing Olympics,” said Dong Zhiyi, deputy general manager of the Capital Airport Holding Co.
“We have won honor for the country, added color to the Olympics and made a good name for Chinese civil aviation,” he said.
Beijing desperately needed a new terminal even without the Summer Games, with double-digit economic growth rapidly outpacing infrastructure expansion plans.
The airport’s second terminal, which opened eight years ago, quickly reached its limits. Long lines for check-in and flight delays are common. (AP)
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