Last week, Beijing’s Daxing International Airport, also known as “Starfish” (due to its shape), undertook its first aircraft tests. Set to open later this year, Daxing will be Beijing’s second international airport, opening just a decade after the celebrated completion of Beijing Capital International Airport’s (BCIA) biggest terminal in an effort to accommodate what will soon be the busiest aviation market in the world.
Daxing has gotten a fair bit of hype in the past couple of years, so in case you’re out of the loop here’s a quick rundown of some of the most interesting things about it:
At 7.5 million square feet (700,000 square meters), the Daxing Airport’s hexagon-shaped main terminal will be the largest single building airport concourse in the world. That’s out of 18 square miles (17 square meters) in total for the airport. Eventually it will boast seven runways and be able to accommodate 620,000 flights and 100 million passengers per year, making it one of the busiest airports in the world.
It’s not just the massive scale of the 12 billion USD project that’s impressive but also its breezy pace of construction. Initial phases began in 2014 and the airport is already scheduled to open this September, a feat pulled off by 8,000 workers and a sense of urgency to accommodate what will soon by the biggest aviation market in the world.
Unlike most airports, the security checkpoint doesn’t have to be the end of seeing your friends and family off at Daxing. Just head to the fifth floor — you can watch and wave as they go through security and make their way toward the gates from there.
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There’s more to that aquatic, alien space ship-shaped terminal than aesthetics. It’s also designed to accommodate more aircraft and minimize the amount of walking you have to do. The distance from the security checkpoint to the farthest gates is just 600 meters, or less than an eight minute walk. Wonder how long it will take if they have walkway belts.
The person behind the airport’s innovative design is the late Iraqi-born British architect Zaha Hadid. Hadid was the first woman to win the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize and is known for projects ranging from the MAXXI Museum of Contemporary Art and Culture in Rome to the London Aquatics Center for the 2012 Olympics. Hadid passed away in 2016 when she still had 36 projects on her plate, including the 2022 World Cup Stadium in Qatar.
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Workers stumbled upon the Qing Dynasty graveyard along with pottery, jewelry and other relics where the airport’s maintenance and repair facilities will be. The Beijing Cultural Relics Bureau was called in to check out the site, part of which will likely be protected. Spooky.
Both the dead and the living were disturbed for the multi-billion dollar airport. The villagers who lost their homes to the mega infrastructure project received compensation packages but didn’t have a say in the matter. Some were moved because their homes were inside the construction area and others because the area where they lived is about to get a whole lot noisier.
After a bout of drama where some say China Eastern lobbied a government official behind closed doors to help it keep a lucrative Beijing to Shanghai route at Beijing Capital International Airport, it looks like all three major State-owned airlines will be present at Daxing. China Southern and China Eastern will have the biggest chunks of air traffic whereas Air China will be left to make do with most of the traffic at BCIA.
The airport will help realize the integration of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei megalopolis in the north of the country (also known as Jingjinji), a region touted as an emerging rival to more prosperous hubs in the south. Two underground floors will connect the airport with the rest of the region through high-speed train, intercity rail links and subways. Daxing isn’t just an airport — it’s a giant transportation hub.
Cover photo: Zaha Hadid Architects
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