Few global cities are served by multiple mega international airports, and Beijing, in a country known for mass producing engineering superlatives, is now one of them with the recent opening of Beijing Daxing International Airport (PKX).
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PKX is sprawled over 47 sq. km of land, nearly the size of Manhattan, in an area 46 km south of Beijing’s city centre. Although it is located a considerable distance from the city, a new express subway travelling at speeds of up to 160 km/h connects the airport to the city centre in just 20 minutes.
The new secondary airport has a floor area of about 7.5 million sq. ft., plus an 860,000-sq-ft ground transportation centre that provides the stations for both the express subway and intercity railway.
The entire project came with a construction cost of 80 billion yuan (CAD $15 billion).
Designed by the late acclaimed architect Zaha Hadid, the sleek, contemporary, starfish-shaped terminal building echoes the “principles within traditional Chinese architecture that organize interconnected spaces around a central courtyard.”
Five aircraft piers radiate from this interior courtyard where all passenger services and amenities are located. This configuration also allows for an optimal number of gates with air bridges — 79 in total — that also efficiently reduces aircraft taxiing times.
“The terminal’s design guides all passengers seamlessly through the relevant departure, arrival or transfer zones towards the grand courtyard at its centre — a multi-layered meeting space at the heart of the terminal,” reads the design description by Hadid’s firm.
Impressively, for passengers, the compact terminal design minimizes the distances between the check-in area and the gates, and the connections between gates for transferring passengers. In fact, the layout of the terminal building has meant no more than 600 metres of — approximately eight minutes of walking — between security and the furthest gates.
The airport is also designed with some of the latest green building features, including solar panels that generate at least 10MW of electricity, rainwater collection system, and a centralized heating system with waste heat recovery, supplemented by a geoexchange system.
Planning for PKX began in 2008, when Terminal 3 of Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) opened in time for the 2008 Summer Olympics. It was forecast at the time that the city’s main international airport, despite the major expansion, would quickly reach its capacity of 90 million passengers per year.
In 2018, PEK was well over capacity with 101 million passengers, making it difficult to add flight routes at ideal times. It is also only the second airport in the world to cross the 100 million passengers per year threshold — just behind Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport at 107 million passengers, and ahead of Dubai International Airport at 89 million passengers and Los Angeles International Airport at 88 million passengers.
The new PKX is expected to see 75 million passengers by 2025, but it will be expandable to an ultimate capacity of between 120 million and 200 million passengers, and up to four million tons of cargo. The vast airport land base also allows for the operation of up to seven runways.
Currently, only domestic flights are operating at PKX, but international flights will be gradually added over the coming months, when customs and immigration are operational. Some of the routes that currently operate at the congested PEK will also be transferred to the new airport.
Hadid, who suddenly passed away at the age of 65 in 2016, was known for designs with a starchitectural flair, including the London Olympic Aquatics Centre and Guangzhou Opera House.