Gusts rip roof of Beijing airport and raise questions over design

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 December, 2010, 12:00am

Staff at Beijing Capital International Airport scrambled to fix the roof of Terminal 3, part of which was badly damaged on Friday by strong winds that swept across Beijing.

About 200 square metres of the roof were ripped open at around 1pm on Friday by the wind, the Chinese Radio Network said. The damaged area had been fixed by early yesterday morning - more than 100 workers were sent to repair it immediately after the incident, the radio said.

Though the damaged area was small relative to the size of the building, bits of the roof were carried by the wind over to the tarmac and a runway, causing at least 200 flights to be delayed or cancelled on Friday before the debris was removed, the Beijing News website reported.

T3 is the world's third-largest building by area at 986,000 square metres, and the second-largest airport building - only Dubai airport's own T3 is bigger, at 1.5 million square metres. Beijing was named the world's best airport in 2009 by overseas magazine Conde Nast Traveller.

The massive delays and cancellations on Friday sparked an outcry among internet users, with many questioning the construction quality of the 27 billion yuan (HK$31.48 billion) project, which was one of the important auxiliary projects for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Ding Jiangang , chief designer of T3, yesterday said the original design was supposed to be able to withstand wind speeds of up to 28.3 metres per second (102km/h).

But the strongest wind speed on Friday was 27 metres per second, less than the design limit, according to the airport's weather instruments.

'Our anti-wind capability figure was based on results in a wind tunnel. It is impossible to simulate all situations in the natural environment,' Ding was quoted by China Radio Network as saying.

However, Professor Wang Mengshu at Beijing Jiaotong University and a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, who was one of the Olympic project review committee members, said the T3 design was initially turned down by the committee's civil engineering group.

'We all worried about the safety and practical application of the project because it was too high and wasted a lot of land,' Wang said, referring to T3's total length of 2,900 metres from south to north and its height of 45 metres.

'With a 790-metre stretch over the whole width of the roof, there were no pillars in the middle to support it ... Indeed, its long length wastes too much time for passengers. I have never used it to take a flight.'