Beijing opens new Olympic-ready terminal

China Beijing New Airport
Security guards walk past windows at Beijing Airport's new Terminal 3 building. Beijing on Friday opened the gargantuan glass-and-steel creation built to accommodate a surge in visitors for the Summer Olympics.Greg Baker / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Beijing opened its newest airport terminal Friday, a gargantuan glass-and-steel creation built to accommodate a surge in visitors for the Summer Olympics.

Dozens of passengers from Terminal 3's first domestic flight to arrive — an hourlong jaunt from Shandong province in China's east — were welcomed with flower bouquets. A British Airways flight from London landed a few hours later.

A group of 10 musicians played string instruments at an opening ceremony attended by Chinese officials. Floors were highly polished and glass windows gleamed.

"It is the epitome of China's fast-growing economy and portrays our strong state power," said Zhang Guobao, deputy director of National Development and Reform Commission, the country's main economic planning agency.

The 14 million-square-foot terminal and ground transportation center are the centerpiece project for the Olympics designed to relieve the overloaded airport's other two terminals and accommodate expected rapid growth in the number of visitors to the capital.

Airport officials have said that at least 64 million passengers are expected to come through this year, up from 50 million last year and 20 million in 2000.

On Friday, passenger loads were still light and there were no lines in sight at check-in counters. Small groups of visitors clustered around viewing galleries to watch planes land and take off.

Terminal 3, its runway and most of the related infrastructure were built in just under four years, with a compressed timetable to ensure it was ready for the Aug. 8-24 Olympics, a source of immense pride for China.

The building's deep red pillars and matte gold roof are meant to evoke Beijing's imperial palaces and temples. Triangular skylights that open out onto the gently sloping roof give an airy feeling to the terminal, which houses 64 Western and Chinese restaurants, 90 retail shops, and a state-of-the-art-baggage handling system. The runway is capable of handling Airbus' huge A380 superjumbo.

"We have provided a venue with safe and highly efficient service for the much-anticipated Beijing Olympics," said Dong Zhiyi, deputy general manager of the Capital Airport Holding Co.

"We have won honor for the country, added color to the Olympics and made a good name for Chinese civil aviation," he said.

Beijing desperately needed a new terminal even without the Summer Games, with double-digit economic growth rapidly outpacing infrastructure expansion plans.

The airport's second terminal, which opened eight years ago, quickly reached its limits. Long lines for check-in and flight delays are common.

Also Friday, reporters were given a tour of one of two new subway lines that will be ready for the Beijing Olympics.

The first phase of Line 10 will open in June. The line runs northwest to southeast and was built at a cost of $1.9 million, said Liu Hongtao, an executive with the Beijing Railway Transportation Construction Corp.

Six workers will killed almost a year ago when a tunnel collapsed during Line 10's construction.

The short Olympic Line, which will serve many of the venues, is still under construction. It connects with Line 10 and will cost $335 million. A high-speed commuter rail to the airport is also in the works.

Beijing has 88 miles of subways and will have 125 miles when the Olympics open. The city plans to have 348 miles by 2015.