Why Beijing’s New Daxing International Airport is a Big Deal (Part 1/2)

This article is the first in a two-part series about Beijing’s new Daxing International Airport. Part I will be an overview of the airport’s characteristics and its regional integration; Part II will dig deeper into how the airport shifts the Beijing airline landscape.

Introduction

In the booming past 30 years of Chinese air transport, one of the most impressive realizations has been the money and effort put into building the appropriate infrastructure to support it: airports. Construction and expansion of commercial airports have been going at a breathtaking pace. The 13th Five Year Plan (which runs from 2016 to 2020) plans for example to build more than 50 new commercial airports, enabling smoother connections to third-tier cities. The number of commercial airports in 2020 is targeted at 260, up from the 207 accounted for in 2015 [1]. According to a document released in March 2019 by CAAC, there are currently 30 airports undergoing construction, 43 entering construction phase, and 125 undertaking an expansion plan [2]. In 2018, 5 second-tier city airports (Ningbo, Shijiazhuang, Zhuhai, Wenzhou and Hefei) passed the mark of 10 million passengers served annually; as a consequence, the total number of 10+ million passenger airports reached 37 in 2018 [3].

Daxing International Airport

beijing-new-airport_00_ZHAFig. 1 – Render of Daxing International Airport (Credit: © Zaha Hadid Architects / ADP Ingénierie)

Undoubtedly, the most eye-catching project amid the clatters of construction is Beijing’s shiny new Daxing International Airport, bound to start operations in September 2019. Beijing currently operates only a single airport, Beijing Capital (if we ignore the small semi-military Nanyuan Airport, used only by China United Airlines). While Beijing Capital’s latest extension, the gigantic Terminal 3, was inaugurated only a decade ago for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, it is today completely saturated, breaking the 100 million annual passenger flow in 2018 while being designed for only 82 million [3][4].

The construction of a new airport to solve this issue was approved by the NDRC at the end of 2014, aiming to “enhance air transport capacity, competitiveness, and develop Beijing’s southern districts & the Jing-Jin-Ji Metropolitan Area” [5]. The design of the terminal was realized by French airport engineering group ADP Ingénierie (ADPI), in collaboration with world-renown architect firm Zaha Hadid Architects. ADPI settled for an innovative star-like structure with a multi-floor central hub connected to six branches. One major feature of this design is to concentrate domestic and international arrival/departure one above another on 4 different floors. This superimposed architecture enables the merging of domestic and international terminals into one single mega-terminal, while putting any gate of the airport at a walking distance of less than 600 meters due to the radial hub-branch layout.

The airport is expected to reach 72 million passengers by 2025 [5] and is designed to ramp up to 130 million passengers a year by 2050, very likely making it the busiest airport in the world, on par or surpassing Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Other impressive features include 78 gates, 7 runways (!), and wide glass openings in the roof enabling the terminal to rely almost entirely on natural light during daytime.

beijing-new-airport_02_ZHAFig. 2 – Light pours into the terminal through a wide glass vaulted ceiling (Credit: © Zaha Hadid Architects / ADP Ingénierie)

Geographic Situation

Daxing International Airport is located at the utmost southern point of the Beijing municipal region, Daxing County, on the border with Hebei Province and its closest city Langfang. It is situated 46 km away from the city center, considerably more than Beijing Capital Airport, at 25 km away to the Northeast.

airport-distances-map-4.png
Fig. 3 – Beijing metropolitan area and distances to both airports (OpenStreetMap)

The extra distance puts considerable extra pressure on airlines which are moving operations from Beijing Capital to Daxing (more on this further in Part II). This has led the government to develop two high speed rail connections to the city: the Beijing-Xiong’An Intercity Rail and Beijing Subway New Airport Line. The former is a high-speed rail that will connect Beijing West Station to the airport in 20 minutes, running at 250 km/h (and at 350 km/h further on between the airport and Xiong’An city), likely with a CRRC CRH6A-type train. The other line will be a special line of Beijing’s Subway, connecting Caoqiao Station (line 10) with the airport in just 20 minutes with a new CRH6 Cinova-based EMU train [6] running at 160 km/h, instead of 80 km/h like the rest of the city’s subway network. This puts both airports at similar distances to the city center (Beijing Capital is 20 minutes away from Chaoyang district with the current Airport Line).

S104 CRH6A-0438
Fig. 4 – CRH6A type used on the Beijing Suburban Rail, and likely to be used on the Beijing-Xiong’An Intercity Rail

wenzhou subway2
Fig. 5 – Cinova-based CRH6 EMU type that will be used on the New Airport Line

The “Jing-Jin-Ji” Metropolitan Area

It is worth noting that Beijing’s new Daxing International Airport actually aims at serving passengers from the entire “Jing-Jin-Ji” Metropolitan Area, rather than just Beijing city itself. “Jing-Jin-Ji” is short for Beijing, Tianjin and Ji (冀 jì, meaning Hebei), and is the new name for the megalopolis of the Bohai Area. Home to 110 million inhabitants, it is formed of a chain of megacities, notably Beijing and Tianjin (22 and 16 million), as well as Baoding, Tangshan and Langfang (10.5, 7.8 and 4.8 million).

JingJinJi metropolitan area2
Fig. 6 – “Jing-Jin-Ji” is the merging of the ultra-urban areas of Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei Province

The “Jing-Jin-Ji” Metropolitan Area project was first mentioned by Xi Jinping early in 2014, and the government soon after rolled out the “Jing-Jin-Ji Coordinated Development Plan” in March 2015. The plan aims at merging the otherwise independently governed metropolitan areas of Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei Province. The integration plan includes transport (High-Speed Rail routes between all medium and large cities, building a suburban high speed metro interconnection around Beijing), economic development (projects that take advantage of different cities’ complementarity) and environmental protection. One of the pillars of this development is the creation of Xiong’An New Area, a new city to which Beijing will transfer all non-core government entities, as well as make the city a showcase for technological progress and environmental sustainability. According to Kai-Fu Lee in “AI Superpowers”, the city is projected to take 583 billion USD worth of infrastructure spending and reach a population of 2.5 million. Some of the features include “road infrastructure specifically built to accommodate autonomous vehicles”. Buildings and other infrastructure will be built with smart sensors, enabling smart city management services.

Daxing International Airport: A Central Role in “Jing-Jin-Ji”

Going back to Daxing International Airport, its situation at the southern border of Beijing and Hebei Province and its proximity to Tianjin gives it a central position in the new “Jing-Jin-Ji” Area, with the perspective of serving the 70+ million people in the Beijing-Tianjin-Baoding triangle. It will also be in the immediate proximity of Xiong’An city, located 20 minutes away thanks to the new Beijing -Xiong’An Intercity Rail. Daxing International Airport will be more than Beijing’s airport: it will be one of the infrastructure spearheads of “Jing-Jin-Ji”.

central position of airport in jingjinjiFig. 7 – The Central Position of Daxing International Airport in “Jing-Jin-Ji”

This is the end of Part I, an overview of the airport’s characteristics and geographic position. Next month’s Part II will focus on what Daxing International Airport means for Chinese airlines, in terms of risks and opportunity. What are your thoughts on the airport? Feel free to leave comments in the comment section below!

References

[1] Overview of China’s Five-Year Plans in the Transport Sector, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH
[2] 民用运输机场建设“十三五”规划中期调整方案, March 2019
[3] 北京首都国际机场年旅客吞吐量破亿, 世界新闻,December 28 2018
[4] Beijing Capital Airport to Reach Its Design Capacity of 80 Million Passengers Within This Year, WCarn, May 24 2012, Izzie Lin
[5] 国家发展改革委关于北京新机场工程可行性研究报告的批复, National Development and Reform Commission, November 22 2014
[6] Beijing New Airport metro train unveiled, International Railway Journal, January 30 2019

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