Beijing’s new Daxing International Airport is set to open by October and has its sights set on the title of the world’s busiest airport within a few years of opening. Emma Kelly takes a look at the giant new hub.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) is readying for the opening of the latest jewel in its commercial aviation crown, Beijing Daxing International Airport, in September 2019. The project has been huge in terms of design and construction, as well as ambition, with the new Beijing hub expecting to claim the title of the world’s busiest airport from the US Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport within a few years of its opening. It has also come at a high cost – from 64 billion yuan (US$9.2 billion) up to the project price cap which was set at 80 billion yuan.
The new airport is located in the Daxing district of Beijing, south of the city and some 67km from the existing Beijing Capital International Airport, which is currently the world’s second-largest in terms of passenger traffic, handling over 95 million passengers in 2017 – well above its original passenger handling capacity of 75 million. Beijing Capital is creaking at its seams and has become renowned for its delays – although delays in China are still inevitable unless the military further releases its hold on airspace.
Beijing Daxing will not replace Beijing Capital, but will instead complement it, providing initially a much needed 45 million passenger-handling capacity per annum on opening and rising to 72 million by 2025 and eventually over 100 million, with its initial four runways (eventually eight civil runways and one military).
The ambitious project was first approved by the government of China in January 2013, with construction of the airport on a 6,620 acre site starting in December 2014. Early delays in land acquisition and demolition work meant the project was slow to start, but a rapid construction period of just five years means that completion is now expected by 30 June 2019, with operations commencing on 30 September, according to the CAAC.
At a recent “mobilisation rally” designed to drive those involved towards the final goal, CAAC administrator Feng Zhenglin called on the workforce to focus on diligence, win a “decisive battle” and “focus on key activities, coordination and cooperation, as well as truth-seeking and pragmatism, in an effort to secure a decisive victory in ensuring a high level of safety, project schedule and smooth operational preparation, and strive to achieve the operation of the new airport on schedule”.
In order to ensure the facility is ready in time, the CAAC has worked with Tongji University on a comprehensive management and control plan which covers the construction plan for the remaining elements; a plan for the acceptance inspection and facilities handover; details for the operational preparation and acceptance inspection; as well as clarifying the roadmap, timetable, workbook and responsibility list for the remaining construction and operational work.
Major milestones in the project have already been achieved. By late October, the CAAC said that 93 percent of the earthwork and 62 percent of the road surface construction was completed, the terminal building has entered the final stage of fitting, electromechanical installation is under way, as well as jet bridge construction and all interior fit out is expected to be completed by April. The west air traffic control tower has also entered the final stage of interior completion and is expected to be finished in June while an east tower is also under construction, and the aviation oil storage tank has been completed.
At 46km from Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, transportation links to the new airport have been an important consideration in the project and the construction of transportation links has been accelerated to create a major transportation hub. A new airport north line expressway was due to be opened in December and a new airport expressway will be ready in June. By opening day, the Beijing-Xiongan inter-city high-speed railway, a new subway line linking downtown Beijing and the airport and the new expressways will all be operational, says the CAAC. Meanwhile, airspace planning for the Beijing terminal area, capacity evaluation, flight procedure design and operational plans are all ahead of schedule, CAAC reports. The focus has shifted from project construction to operational preparation to ensure the new airport can enter operation as scheduled, it adds.
The project has been very much international in its design and execution. Netherlands Airport Consultants (NACO) won the contract to design the airport’s master plan in 2011. NACO says it paid particular attention to the landside accessibility and incorporated into the design various modes of public transport, including high-speed trains, the metro, local buses and inter-airport trains in a Ground Transportation Centre, which will be located at the front of the terminals and will include a smart parking concept. The aim was to spread traffic flow as much as possible in order to avoid congestion and guarantee accessibility. The layout of the eight runways, taxiways and aprons throughout the airport were designed to keep taxi distances as short as possible, despite the vast size of the airport.
In October 2014, the Beijing New Airport Headquarters (BNAH) created a joint design team comprising French company ADP Ingenierie (ADPI) and UK-based Zaha Hadid Architects, along with design and engineering consultancies Buro Happold, Mott MacDonald and EC Harris. The concept design was completed in February 2015 and the result is spectacular.
The design is focused on user experience, with ADPI designing one centralised compact star shape single passenger handling terminal and with vertically stacked international and domestic processes.
Although the terminal measures 700,000m2 – the world’s largest – its compact design means that distances between check-in and the gate are minimised, including between gates for transferring passengers, according to Zaha Hadid Architects. Each aircraft pier radiates directly from the terminal’s central court where all passenger services and amenities are located, meaning that no automated people mover is required, allowing passengers to simply walk the short distance to everywhere they need to go, it adds. Buro Happold says the maximum that passengers will need to walk to their gate is 600m thanks to the design.
The design is based on traditional Chinese architecture whereby interconnected spaces are organised around a central courtyard, with passengers guided by the design through the departure, arrival or transfer zones towards the central grand courtyard, which Zaha Hadid describes as a “multi-layered meeting space at the very heart of the terminal”. Flowing parabolic folds within the terminal’s vaulted roof reach to the ground to support the structure and bring natural light into the building.
The design of the terminal is also based on sound environmental principles, with the architect noting that by housing many aircraft gates within one terminal with a single passenger handling centre, rather than having many smaller terminals and inter-terminal shuttle trains, the carbon footprint is significantly reduced.
Buro Happold says environmental drivers played a key role in the design, with numerous passive elements incorporated, including shading strategies, high performance glazing and carefully placed roof lights that optimise the energy performance. These solutions alone will result in an estimated 50 per cent reduction in overall energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions compared with similar buildings with more traditional design.
The design is also highly flexible, allowing the terminal to adapt to operate in different configurations depending on the aircraft and passenger traffic mix during the day.
Fellow design team member Buro Happold says the terminal is “user focused, energy efficient and built with the flexibility to sustain future growth”. It adds: “It was essential to deliver a design that allowed passengers to move easily and intuitively around the vast new terminal. Adaptability and sustainability were also key drivers, as the airport will accommodate 45 million passengers per year on opening, rising to 75 million over the next few years. Our client also wanted to ensure the terminal was a welcoming and inspiring place for passengers, characterised by open and expansive interiors.”
The result is a terminal that is “highly functional and aesthetically beautiful”, Buro Happold said.
In August, international design studio Lead 8 was awarded the contract to design the commercial terminal. Its interior design is based on maximising natural daylight and indoor greenery, with a hybrid workspace designed to create a “pleasant, vibrant and intimate environment for travellers and co-workers”, it says. The terminal features a new generation of workspaces integrated with retail, dining and entertainment offerings.
“The new aeropolis is a glimpse into the shape of the cities of the future. Our future workspaces are being influenced by the changing lifestyles of a new generation, as work, entertainment and hospitality blurs the boundaries to create new opportunities,” says Simon Chua, founder and executive director at Lead 8. He adds: “We hope this scheme will inspire future airport developments, as there is a growing demand for quality workspaces with integrated natural environments, particularly in Beijing.”