Saturday 25 March 2017

Beijing Daxing: How the Chinese are checking into the future

Gemma O'Doherty

Earlier this year, Beijing Capital overtook Heathrow as the busiest international airport in the world.

But the massive aviation hub, which was only unveiled three years ago and caters for 73 million passengers a year, is already at breaking point, unable to cope with just one extra flight a day on its schedule.

In a country where people are getting their first taste of foreign travel and loving it, the demand for air travel is booming and so work is now underway on an even bigger airport which will outdo anything seen in the aviation world before.

When Beijing Daxing opens in 2015, it will be roughly the same size as Bermuda and will handle more than 120 million passengers a year. Construction has already begun at the site, 50km outside the city.

It will feature nine runways (Denver currently has the highest number in the world with six) and a new high-speed rail line that will zip into the city in 20 minutes.

The mega-project is staggering even by Chinese standards and has horrified environmentalists, who fear it will dramatically worsen the country's already woeful pollution problems.

But at a time when the West is in dire need of Chinese spending power to boost its flailing economies, the new airport will act as a gateway for China's billion-plus people desperate to see the world.

Now is the time to make sure a direct flight to Dublin is on its departure screens.

Closer to home, travellers flying into Heathrow are getting a taste of the future this week with the arrival of nifty new pods that whisk them around the airport.

Dreamed up in the 1950s by a NASA engineer, the laser-guided, car-sized capsules run along tracks without drivers at speeds of 25mph, recharging their batteries when they are stationary. They can carry up to four passengers and their luggage, and currently run from Terminal Five to the car park.

The innovative transport system is expected to be rolled out around the rest of the airport soon, reducing travel times by 60pc. Authorities in other European countries, the USA, and India are also planning to install it.

If you find yourself in the terminal with time on your hands, follow the signs for business parking and hop on board. You'll see Heathrow from a whole new perspective.

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