Rushing to open new facilities to attract more passengers, Beijing and Shanghai, China’s two largest urban centers, are locked in an intense rivalry, aiming to become the pre-eminent aviation nodes serving Asia.

An army of construction crews working flat-out at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport over the past four years ensured the timely completion of a sprawling satellite concourse there in mid-September, preceding the fanfare opening of Beijing’s Daxing Airport on Wednesday.

The cavernous, brand new 622,000-square-meter concourse is the largest of its kind in the world. Made with 35,000 tonnes of steel and costing 20.6 billion yuan (US$3 billion), the new structure has diverted and accelerated passenger flow at Shanghai’s premier hub for intercontinental services, with an addition of 125 boarding gates and aprons to cater for an additional 10 million passengers per year.

The new satellite concourse boosts a gross floor area of more than 620,000 square meters and has 125 boarding gates. Photo: Handout

Pudong’s two existing terminals, which opened in 1998 and 2007, have reached their design capacity many years earlier than anticipated, thanks to throngs of businesspeople and holidaymakers from the city and neighboring centers in the affluent Yangtze River Delta hopping on planes to crisscross the world.

The new concourse is detached from other airport buildings on the airside so that aircraft can park around its entire circumference instead of a less efficient pier layout. It also guarantees that more than 90% of flyers passing through Pudong will be able to board or disembark via aerobridges in air-conditioned comfort, according to Shanghai Airport Authority. In the past, old terminals were chock-a-block with passengers during peak travel seasons, meaning half of them needed to clamber aboard jets parked on the tarmac under the scorching sun.

Pudong’s new satellite concourse (left) is located next to the two existing terminals. Photo: Google Maps
One of the two central arcades inside the massive concourse, with a cluster of duty-free shops and restaurants. Photo: Shanghai Daily
The concourse is linked to Pudong’s existing terminals by an automatic people mover. Photo: Jiefang Daily

An underground automatic people-mover system with carriages larger than many cities’ subway trains ply tunnels beneath Pudong’s five runways and shuttle flyers at 80 kilometers per hour around the clock  between the three terminals, with seamless transits to and from Shanghai Metro’s Line 2 as well as the futuristic maglev train that can hurtle people to downtown at 430km/h in eight minutes.

A variable frequency air-conditioning system and wind inlets throughout the concourse’s rooftop and extensive glass facades can save up to 9.95 million kWh of electricity each year. The two triangular central arcades inside the new concourse also boost an array of shopping and dining options, with over 28,000 square meters of commercial space.

A China Eastern A350 jet is fed with passengers from the new concourse. Photo: Shanghai Daily
Shanghai Pudong is mainland China’s second-busiest airport only after Beijing’s capital, with a passenger throughput of 74 million in 2018. Photo: Xinhua

With the new concourse fully operational, Pudong can now handle an annual throughput of 85 million, putting it on a par with London’s Heathrow and Chicago’s O’Hare. That is also on top of the 43.6 million passengers that used Hongqiao in 2018. The Shanghai airport, used mainly for domestic routes, is also being renovated to add extra capacity.

Together the city’s two airports served 117 million passengers last year, making Shanghai the world’s fifth-busiest hub after London, New York, Tokyo and Atlanta.

Yet it remains to be seen if Beijing, riding on the coattails of massive Daxing Airport, will push Shanghai out of the elite league. Shanghai rushed the planning and construction of its new concourse to defend its global ranking. Beijing’s existing Capital International Airport welcomed its 100 millionth flyer in 2018, and Daxing aims to boost its capacity to 40 million by 2021.

Tapping its population base and the synergy of Beijing and Shanghai as well as other prominent hubs like Guangzhou, Chengdu and Shenzhen, China is set to soar past the United States as the world’s largest aviation market by 2024, according to estimates by the International Air Transport Association.

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