At 4.23pm on Wednesday a China Southern Airlines A380 left Beijing for Guangzhou – on the first commercial flight out of the world’s latest and largest airport terminal at Daxing, five years after construction began on the ambitious project. The 80 billion yuan (US$11 billion) Beijing Daxing International Airport was officially opened by Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday morning. China Southern Airlines, the mainland’s largest carrier, has 40 per cent of the flight slots at the new airport. It is one of 16 airlines which will be operating out of Beijing Daxing International Airport, the visually spectacular new facility at the southern end of the Chinese capital. Six other flights, including China Eastern Airlines for Shanghai and Air China for Chengdu, took off before 5pm in the afternoon. These domestic airlines will have part of their operations moving to Daxing for the upcoming winter-spring season, according to the mainland’s aviation authority. No Hong Kong airlines were listed. British Airways has announced its whole operation will be moved to Daxing, while some foreign airlines, such as Ethiopian Airlines, Polish Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Royal Air Maroc and Finnair, will operate at both airports. Spanning 47 sq km (18 square miles) – almost 50 per cent larger than the city of Macau – Daxing, with its 700,000 square metre (7.5 million sq ft) terminal is a spectacular sight. Its futuristic shape, resembling a giant hexagonal starfish or – as some internet users have dubbed it – an alien base, not only handles more aircraft, it also keeps passengers’ walks to a minimum. From the centre of the security check to the furthest end gate in each wing is about 600 metres (1,970 feet), or less than an eight-minute walk. Beijing’s new 7-runway, star-shaped Daxing airport opened by Xi Jinping According to Xinhua, more than 70 restaurants, tea shops and coffee houses will operate in the airport, along with 36 international brands, including Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Bottega Veneta. Daxing is designed to take pressure off the overcrowded Beijing Capital International Airport (BCIA) and, by 2021, is expected to handle 45 million passengers a year, rising to 72 million by 2025. Located at the south of the capital, 46km (28.5 miles) from the central Tiananmen Square, the airport was once frowned upon for its less than optimal location, with its southern end at the border with Hebei province. But it may not be as time-consuming for travellers as originally thought. The design of the airport means passengers will walk a much shorter distance to the check-in and security check. Hu Haiqing, China Southern Airlines Hu Haiqing, deputy general manager of China Southern Airlines’ operation control centre, told Global Times that “although Daxing is further away from downtown Beijing than the Capital airport, there are still some advantages, especially for our airline”. With most of its bases in the south of the country, China Southern Airlines flights to Daxing will be 10 to 15 minutes shorter than to the Capital airport. A further 15 to 20 minutes taxiing time will also be saved, thanks to its position in the new airport. “The design of the airport also means passengers, once they leave their car or train, will walk a much shorter distance to the check-in and security check,” Hu said. According to Xinhua, Daxing’s design also makes transit much quicker, with transfers between international and domestic flights up to 90 minutes shorter than from the Capital airport. Public transport will be the quickest way to reach the new airport from downtown Beijing – 20 minutes from West Beijing railway station once the Beijing-Xiongan high-speed rail officially opens. The airport express service will also take passengers from Caoqiao station to the airport in 19 minutes. There is no underground rail service or airport express connecting the Capital airport in the north with Daxing, but passengers can change trains at Caoqiao for downtown Beijing or other stations which connect with BCIA’s airport express service. Waiting times at the new airport will be greatly reduced by the use of facial recognition technology for self-service check-in and smart security checks, according to Wang Hui, manager of Daxing’s terminal management department. The technology does away with the need for a paper boarding pass and passengers can check-in, with or without luggage, and go through the security check by themselves. Beijing is the window for China to go global … Daxing airport makes it possible to open more global routes. China Eastern Airlines pilot “The airport has more than 400 self-service check-in kiosks, which means more than 80 per cent of check-ins will be self-service. That shortens each passenger’s queuing time to no more than 10 minutes,” Wang told Global Times . “The smart security check channels are able to handle 260 passengers per hour, 40 per cent faster than using traditional means,” he said. The opening of Daxing Airport could be a great boost for the mainland – and even the global – aviation industry by easing pressure on the Capital airport and making new routes possible, said a veteran China Eastern Airlines pilot who declined to be named. 5 things we know about Beijing’s new Daxing International Airport Opening new flight routes from BCIA was almost impossible, he pointed out, because the centre of Beijing was a no-fly zone for security reasons. Daxing airport’s location at the southern end of the city, however, avoided the problem of planes having to bypass the restricted space, leaving room to open more routes for domestic and international flights. “Beijing is the window for China to go global but the Capital airport’s schedule is saturated and unable to open new routes. Daxing airport makes it possible to open more global routes,” the pilot said. He said the runway design at Daxing also meant fewer delays, because the four runways of phase one – more than any other airport in China – included one which was perpendicular to the other three, allowing flights to land and take off regardless of wind direction.