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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Beijing's multibillion-dollar airport terminal set to open ahead of Olympics

Audra Ang, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
BEIJING - Beijing will open the doors to its latest Olympic creation this week - a massive glass and steel airport terminal with a graceful sloping roof that will welcome visitors to the Summer Games.

Fronted by pillars of deep imperial red, Terminal 3 at Beijing Capital International Airport boasts skylights that give it a dragon-like appearance.

The huge, airy interior will have 64 Western and Chinese restaurants, 84 retail shops, and a state-of-the-art-baggage handling system. A high-speed commuter train will whisk passengers into the city, while the runway is capable of handling Airbus' huge A380 superjumbo.

The terminal is a centrepiece project for the Olympics designed to relieve the overloaded airport's other two terminals and accommodate expected rapid growth in the number of visitors to Beijing.

The terminal is "a safe and efficient non-competition venue for the much anticipated Beijing Olympics Games," said Dong Zhiyi, deputy general manager of the Capital Airport Holding Co.

"We feel very proud of our nation," Dong told reporters Tuesday.

Six airlines will begin flying into the terminal Friday, while others will switch over from the other two terminals in March. The Olympics start Aug. 8.

Designed by British architect Norman Foster, the building attempts to combine traditional architectural elements with up-to-date technology. Its red columns and muted gold roof are meant to evoke Beijing's imperial palaces and temples.

Dong said it took just under four years to build the terminal, its runway and most of the related infrastructure, a compressed timetable to ensure it was ready for the Olympics.

The floor space of the terminal and ground transportation centre covers 1.3 million square metres.

The Games are a source of great pride to the Chinese, and Beijing has been turned into a massive construction site over the last seven years as it undergoes a US$40-billion makeover.

China's capital desperately needed a new terminal even without the Olympics, with double-digit economic growth rapidly outpacing infrastructure expansion plans. Dong said he expects the whole airport to receive 64 million visitors this year. That is up from 50 million last year and 20 million in 2000.

© The Canadian Press, 2008

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