Officials hail airport success as fear of overcapacity raised

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 February, 2008, 12:00am

Officials are ecstatic over the accomplishments made in preparing Beijing's new international airport terminal - the world's biggest - for trial operations on Friday and the Olympics in August.

But an economist and urban planning adviser for the government warned that overcapacity could be a problem.

Lu Dadao, an economist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said overcapacity might be a problem given the plans for construction of a second airport in Beijing and the Beijing-Shanghai railway express.

'I think China may overestimate the traffic volume increase,' he said. 'The express railway will not reach capacity in 10 years. It's a waste. So China should not build a second airport in Beijing. It's unnecessary.'

Mainland officials, from National Development and Reform Commission deputy director Zhang Guobao to Dong Zhiyi, the Capital International Airport's group deputy general manager, voiced pride in the design and construction achievements made in just four years.

State media have been flooded with stories praising the advantages of socialism, under which people across industries responded to the nation's call and 'big things' were done smoothly and quickly.

Asked to compare the more than two decades London took to build Heathrow with Beijing's less than four years, Mr Dong said: 'Britain is relatively more forward-looking in planning. But Terminal 3 is our dream. The speed with which it was built shows our capabilities.'

Since Beijing's airport opened in 1959, it has seen three expansions, including the latest. It was only five years after Terminal 2 was up and running that the third expansion programme began, prompting questions about planning quality.

Another airport official said the Chinese decision-making style, which did not involve widely soliciting opinions from related parties, was more efficient.

However, Dr Lu said effectiveness should also be a priority.

While officials are happy with the towering vermilion walls and golden roofs, saying they embody 'Chinese characteristics and modern concepts', Dr Lu said the mainland did not lack grand architecture.

'I think it's better to have an effective, economical and user-friendly facility,' he said.

The mainland's rapid growth and integration into the global economy is putting huge strains on its infrastructure.

Between 2001 and the end of 2005, more was spent on roads, railways and other fixed assets than was used in the previous 50 years.

Construction started last month on the express railway, with a capacity of 120 million passenger trips annually, and it is expected to be finished in 2010. The central government is also considering possible sites for a second airport for the capital.

Flying high

Terminal 3 at Beijing's international airport is now open for trial operations. Here's how it measures up

Terminal 3

Chinese dragon design features five floors above ground, two below


Links Terminals 3A and 3B in three minutes


3km long, one million square metres of floor space, more than all five London Heathrow terminals combined


120 gates and 73 parking bays added, plus third runway to handle big aircraft such as A380

Terminal C

Terminal 3A

Main entrance, check-in and domestic flights

Luggage handling

Over 19,000 bags an hour. Luggage can be retrieved within five minutes of planes unloading

Transport center

Rail station linked to Beijing subway and car park with 7,000 spaces