Fliers beware: New Beijing terminal could blow your mind

BEIJING -- The McDonald's outlets may look and smell familiar to Olympics visitors passing through Beijing airport next August. But almost everything else will have been supersized.

Beijing Capital International Airport officials on Wednesday offered the news media an early look at its sprawling Terminal 3. When it opens on a limited basis in February, the graceful blend of glass and steel will be among the world's largest airport terminals.

It will provide an essential expansion of the overstretched capital city airport. The current two terminals handled 48.7 million passengers last year, far beyond their design capacity of 35 million.

Terminal 3 will also be among the most technologically advanced, promised Chen Guoxing, the airport's deputy general manager.

"We've traveled all over the world to research airports, including Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Denver," said Chen. Terminals in Madrid and Incheon, South Korea, provided the most inspiration for the $2.8 billion Terminal 3, he said.

Terminal 3's swooping, spacious design, by Britain's Norman Foster, bears a subtle dragon motif and recalls his Hong Kong airport design.

But the result is unique and will "blow the minds of visitors," said Jeff Martin, an Orlando native who has overseen installation of the terminal's state-of-the-art, $250 million baggage-handling system for German engineering giant Siemens.

"The public will be astounded by what they see," said Martin, 50, a veteran of 21 airport projects. "This is one of the prettiest airports in the world. It is an absolutely gorgeous, world-class design."

The pressure to succeed has been intense, Martin said. His project normally would take three to five years, but it was completed in 2 1/2 years.

"The Olympics are coming, and you have to be ready. There is no slippage," Martin said.

Most international airports demand six to eight months' trial before opening to the public, but Beijing will have barely five months between the late February trial opening and the formal opening in July.

Airport officials now say passenger volume in 2008 may exceed 60 million, a level of use that until recently wasn't expected to be reached until 2011.

China's aviation industry has been on overdrive in recent years after decades when citizens were severely restricted in travel. Recently, the civil aviation authority warned that the air transport industry is developing "too fast," creating "huge pressure to ensure safety." Authorities have therefore cut 48 daily flights at Beijing.

When the new terminal opens, it's expected to offer the best of Chinese dining and shopping, and to include restaurants that serve French, Italian, Japanese and Southeast Asian cuisine. It will also have familiar Western eateries such as McDonald's, Pizza Hut, KFC, Burger King and Kenny Rogers Roasters.

Beijing airport has introduced measures to reduce waiting times and improve service. As employees of a key 'non-competition Olympic venue,' Beijing's airport staffers are targeted for manners training. Among the goals: producing friendlier receptions from notoriously gruff immigration officers.

Despite the grand plans for Beijing Terminal 3, airport bosses acknowledged Wednesday that it is only a stop-gap measure.

China's breakneck growth has encouraged plans to build another, separate airport in the nation's capital starting in 2010.


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