A futuristic new airport in Beijing, which is expected to become one of the busiest in the world, was opened by President Xi Jinping on Wednesday.

Xi declared the starfish-shaped airport open in brief remarks at a ceremony inside the huge terminal, days before the country holds a grand celebration to mark 70 years of Communist rule.

Located 46 kilometers south of Tiananmen Square, the Beijing Daxing International Airport will operate at full capacity in 2040, with eight runways and the potential to receive 100 million passengers per year.

The airport is seen as a fitting embodiment of the “Chinese dream” Xi has offered his fellow citizens. Both foreign and domestic carriers have announced plans to move their operations to the new airport.

British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Finnair have already announced their new routes to Daxing to tap the potential of the new aviation hub.

The SkyTeam alliance, which includes Delta, Air France and Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM), was expected to move over to the new airport, along with their partners Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines.

But when contacted last week, Delta and Air France said the decision whether to move airports had not yet been made. The third largest Chinese airline, Air China, is expected to keep flying the bulk of its flights from Beijing Capital International Airport.

“Switching airports can be a complex decision for airlines,” said aviation analyst John Strickland. “Airlines would prefer to see a new airport open and overcome teething problems before moving services from another well tried and tested airport.”

At 700,000 square meters – about the size of 100 football pitches – the new structure will be one of the world’s largest airport terminals. The building was designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, who died in 2016.

Inside, it stands out for its flowing, curved lines and use of natural light that filters down to the lowest levels of the building through openings on the roof.

Underneath the terminal is a train station and metro line that will allow travellers to reach the city center in 20 minutes. The project cost 120 billion yuan (US$17.5 billion), or 400 billion yuan if rail and road links are included.

At full capacity, Daxing would be the world’s largest single terminal in terms of traveler capacity, according to its designers.

Atlanta airport in the United States – the world’s busiest airport – can receive more than 100 million passengers, but across two terminals.

The current Beijing Capital International Airport – the world’s second largest – is already overflowing, with just over 100 million passengers annually.

“Daxing is an extension of the phenomenal growth of the aviation market in China,” said Shukor Yusof, head of Malaysia-based aviation consultancy Endau Analytics.

Air transport is booming in China as living standards increase along with peoples’ desire to travel. It is expected to surpass the US to become the world’s biggest aviation market by the mid-2020s, according to the International Air Transport Association.

By 2037 the country will have 1.6 billion plane journeys each year – a billion more than in 2017, the organization estimates.

AFP