China just opened the largest single-terminal airport in the world—and it will eventually be the biggest airport of any kind on the planet when it reaches full capacity.
The new Daxing International Airport is expected to handle 72 million passengers a year by 2025. Once a planned expansion is built that number will ramp up to 130 million passengers and four million tons of goods a year by 2050—which will likely beat out the current busiest airport in the world, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
Daxing was designed by ADP Ingénierie, a French airport engineering firm, and world-renowned architect firm Zaha Hadid Arhitects. Instead of the usual linear terminal layout, Daxing features an innovative star-shaped structure with a multi-floor central hub connected to five wings meant to represent a phoenix. The design concentrates on domestic and international arrivals and departures on four different floors—making it a single mega-terminal. As a result, any gate of the airport is less than 600 meters away from any other—about an eight-minute walk at most. Daxing is the first airport to feature two levels for departures.
Zaha Hadid Architects showcases Daxing.
The 1.03-million square meter terminal building has 78 gates and six runways. Those gates are placed along five arms of the airport, with a sixth arm dedicated to administrative offices and parking. The multi-directional design of the runways helps improve air operation efficiency, eliminating flight path bottlenecks and detours while avoiding Beijing’s large no-fly zone.
Family and friends will be able to see their loved ones even after they pass through security checks. Standing on the fifth floor, the highest point in the terminal, visitors will be able to see passengers crossing a glass bridge following security screenings as they walk to their gates.
The terminal building is supported by eight giant C-shape columns that also let in sunlight. Combined with the 8,000 glass roof windows—which feature a heat-blocking layer that absorbs 60 percent of the solar heat while still allowing the sunlight through—the terminal will be able to rely almost entirely on natural sunlight during daylight hours. At the end of the five wings are outdoor gardens, designed in a traditional Chinese style, where passengers can wait for their flights in comfort.
The massive facility is partially powered by renewable energy sources such as ground source heat pumps, solar photovoltaic and solar thermal energy—which, combined, will account for about 10 percent of the energy used.
Daxing International is also integrated into ground transportation networks—high-speed inter-city rail and subways both have stations in the underground levels of the airport. The fully-automated, driverless airport express trains can top 100 miles per hour as they shuttle between the airport and Beijing’s subway system, which also links the airport with downtown Beijing. They will be the fastest trains in China, able to carry 1,500 passengers per train—it will also even feature a business class carriage.
In order to build a railway station right under an airport terminal, engineers had to ensure it could withstand the rumbling of trains without disrupting flight operations and passenger comfort. About 1,000 anti-seismic isolation bearings have been built into the concrete slabs of the ground level to prevent the terminal from shaking. As a result, it can withstand an 8.0 magnitude earthquake.
The airport features state-of-the-art surveillance technology to alleviate security and immigration screening bottlenecks. AI-powered facial recognition technology, developed by Chinese AI start-ups, is deployed throughout the complex. Face-scanning machines will match passengers to tickets using biometric computer applications to identify an individual from a database of digital images that is already in extensive use in China.
The airport will also feature paperless boarding. The baggage handling system utilizes RFID to enable real-time luggage tracking. In addition, customer service robots provide passengers with flight updates and airport information. All this data is run through a 5G network.
As a result, a flyer can check in on their mobile device, deposit their luggage at self-serve luggage drop, keep track of their bags via their mobile, and proceed to the gate with minimal delay.
The runways will use advanced technology to boost safety as well. An AI-based runway monitoring system developed by Israel’s Xsight Systems will monitor and detect any forms of debris or hazards to prevent occurrences such as bird strikes or planes veering off the runway.
Daxing was built to alleviate the load on Beijing’s other huge international airport, Beijing Capital, which serves 100 million passengers annually and is now operating at full capacity.
The new airport is expected to be a big contributor to the regional economy, to the tune of $125 billion. The Jing-Jin-Ji Metropolitan Area—comprising of a chain of megacities including Beijing and Tianjin—is home to 110 million people. The Chinese government has implemented a coordinated development plan for the region and Daxing is an important hub for the plan. A notable indicator of the boost for Chinese industry: Daxing needed about 200,000 tons of steel—the same amount used in building China's Liaoning aircraft carrier.
The new airport was built at breakneck speed—it only took five years to construct. During that building frenzy, the crew put up the equivalent of one 18-story building every day! At peak construction there were 40,000 workers on site. And at a price tag of $63 billion, it cost less to build the entire facility than it will to put in one additional runway at Heathrow.
Daxing International promises to be a vital addition to China’s rapidly-growing commercial flight industry—which already has ambitious plans for market dominance. And with its extensive use of advanced technologies, it is sure to set a new standard for airport design and construction that competitors will be hard-pressed to match.
Read more about China’s ambitious infrastructural projects at How China’s High-Speed Rail Zooms Past Other Countries.