World’s largest terminal opens to serve the capital of world’s most populous country — in time for the 2008 Summer Olympics
Yesterday I reported on the new Terminal 5 at London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR). Today I share the news that Terminal 3 is about to open at Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK). At 1.8 miles long and five stories high, it dwarfs Heathrow’s new terminal and, in fact, by most measures is the largest building on the planet. In order to construct it, the Chinese government leveled five villages — something the People’s Republic can do with impunity. The Kingdom or Great Britain and Northern Ireland fortunately cannot simply destroy neighborhoods and villages to expand Heathrow’s runway system, much as airlines and their customers would want that to happen.
Again, I write fortunately, because all of China’s mind-blowing construction projects — whether the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze, the railroad to Lhasa, Tibet, and now this terminal — come at untold human cost. The villages are gone and an unknown number of villagers dispersed, and the feng shui principles reportedly used in the terminal’s design that melds Eastern and Western styles didn’t do them much good. Twenty-seven airlines will be at home there. The massive building — ironically designed by British architect Norman Foster of Foster & Partners — cost $2.8 billion, plus $4.6 billion in related infrastructure improvements. Some 50,000 workers labored to build the new terminal in less than four years (about the amount of time the British spent holding hearings and discussing their Terminal 5), ups the airport’s capacity from 35 million passengers per year to 85 million. Last year, the airport actually saw nearly $48 million passengers crowding through the existing terminals, four miles from the new behemoth, with one entire concourse devoted only to charter flights. A rail link connects the airport to the city, which is a very good thing in this congested, polluted but ultimately impressive capital.
China is banking on the upcoming Olympics and projects like this impressive terminal to raise its stature in the eyes of the world. But the production tainted pet foods, questionable medicines, potentially hazardous toys and most significantly, the current brutal suppression of Tibetan protests snag the headlines from what the country hopes to accomplish.
British Airways and Qantas have already moved into the new building with four other OneWorld alliance airlines (Cathay Pacific, Dragonair, Finnair and Japan Airlines) joining them by the end of the month. In decidedly un-Communist fashion, premium passengers of these six carriers will share the luxurious OneWorld lounge, and for Cathay Pacific and Dragonair will be soon open their own lounge soon. Also moving their operations to the new terminal in the next few weeks are Air China, Shanghai Airlines and Star Alliance airlines (including United).
The new terminal appears to be visually stunning, but I do wonder whether the villagers who were dislocated in order to build it have been moved someplace from which they can see it, and if so, what they might think. It is impressive, to be sure, and it’s all in the name of progress, Chinese-style, regardless of the cost to its people.