Beijing opens new $3.6 billion air terminal
By Ben Blanchard
BEIJING (Reuters) - Beijing opened a huge new $3.6 billion airport terminal on Friday ahead of the expected influx of millions of visitors to this summer's Olympics, part of a multi-billion infrastructure boost for the capital.
The impressive terminal's nearly 3-km (2-mile) long concourse, which is divided into three sections and connected by a shuttle train, will boost capacity at the airport to 76 million compared with the 52 million who used the airport last year.
Apart from the terminal, China is also busy opening new subway lines and roads, as part of a $40 billion project to revamp and modernize Beijing in preparation for the Olympics.
Olympic organizers showed off two new subway lines on Friday, the 13.5 billion yuan ($1.90 billion) first phase of Line 10 and the 2.4 billion yuan branch line to serve the Olympic Green -- site of the main venues for the Games.
Part of an ambitious project to expand the capital's subway network from 143 kilometers to 200 km in time for the Games and 561 km by 2015, the new lines with their state-of-the-art air-conditioned carriages open in June, officials said.
Six workers died last year when a tunnel collapsed during construction of the 25km line, but there were no further fatalities on the project, officials added.
"This railway will be the backbone of Beijing's transport network," said Zhou Zhengyu of Beijing's Communications Committee.
The new airport terminal is supposed to resemble a dragon, complete with triangular windows cut into the ceiling as though they were scales. It was designed by British architect Norman Foster, who also designed Hong Kong's Chep Lap Kok airport.
A train link, to open before the Olympics, will zip people downtown in about 15 minutes on the 28 km line, and the high-tech baggage system will handle 19,800 bags per hour.
It has almost double the number of boarding gates of the old terminals and nearly 300 check-in desks. The terminal has been built to maximize the use of natural light, with walls of glass.
AIR TRAVEL BOOMING
Air travel in China is booming, on the back of growing tourism and rising domestic incomes, with 200 million passengers expected to take to this skies this year, up from 185 million last year.
The country plans to build nearly 100 new airports by 2020 to cater for this demand, many in remote, economically backward areas.
But whether or not the new terminal can help boost China's notoriously low service standards is still uncertain, and airport officials have admitted they have a way to go before being able to match Hong Kong, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur.
China's civil aviation regulator continues to berate airlines and airports for their poor treatment of passengers and is desperately trying to get them to raise standards ahead of the flood of visitors who will come for the Olympics.
"It's very necessary to build this new terminal. Actually, I don't think this building is big enough. It needs to be much bigger because only that will suit our vast country and this big capital," said Zhang Licheng, 38, who was about to leave for Chengdu.
"I think the service in this terminal needs to be on par with international standards," he added.
Beijing airport was ranked only 62nd in 2006 in an Airports Council International survey of passenger satisfaction levels despite being the ninth busiest in the world in terms of passengers handled.
Six airlines will use Terminal 3 initially, including Sichuan Airlines, Shandong Airlines, Qatar Airways, Qantas Airways <QAN.AX>, British Airways <BAY.L> and El Al Israel Airlines <ELAL.TA>.
More will move in from March 26, including Air China <601111.SS>, Lufthansa <LHAG.DE>, Singapore Airlines <SIAL.SI>, Air Canada <ACa.TO> and other Star Alliance members, as well as Emirates and Hong Kong's Dragonair.
The terminal, operated by Beijing Capital International Airport Co Ltd, also has special bridges to handle Airbus's giant double-decked A380.
(Additional reporting by Kitty Bu and Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Alex Richardson)
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