China officially opens the largest air hub in the world

Chinese President Xi Jinping has announced the official opening of Beijing Daxing International Airport. The massive air hub is expected to become the biggest single terminal by traveler capacity in around two decades.

The Chinese leader and top government officials came to the opening ceremony inside the the starfish-shaped terminal on Wednesday, days before the country marks the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic. The opening was originally scheduled for September 30.

Located 46 kilometers from Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the airport, abbreviated PKX, is set to boost tourism and further support China’s flagship infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative. Daxing airport will also reduce pressure on the overcrowded Beijing Capital International Airport, the second largest air hub in the world.

One of the features of the new airport will be a smart travel system that uses Huawei’s 5G technology and is deployed by China Unicom. The system makes IDs and even QR codes unnecessary as its integrated facial recognition can be used for procedures ranging from check-in and security clearance to boarding.

The construction of the mega-airport cost the Chinese government around $17.47 billion in total, according to the airport’s website. The terminal building alone covers 700,000 square meters.

The new transport hub will have the capacity to handle about 45 million passengers a year by 2021, and 72 million by 2025. The airport is planned to eventually expand from four to seven runways in total and serve about 620,000 flights annually, or one flight per minute.

By 2040 the hub wants to be able to welcome 100 million passengers per year, thus becoming the world’s largest single terminal in terms of traveler capacity. The Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport in the US currently holds the crown of the world’s busiest airport serving than 100 million travelers, but they are split between its two terminals.

China Southern Airlines, one of the “Big Three” airlines in China (along with flagship carrier Air China and China Eastern Airlines), is set to relocate to the new airport and will account for almost 30 percent of the total flights from the hub. About 50 foreign airlines, including British Airways and Finnair, also plan to move part of their operations to Daxing in the near future.