Take offs & Land­ings

The Mid­dle King­dom is sprout­ing a vast crop of

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE - By Jerome Greer Chan­dler

China Then, Now and Pretty Soon – New air­ports in the Mid­dle King­dom. Plus new route news.

The year was 1988, and it was De­cem­ber in Bei­jing – bleak, cold and un­for­giv­ing. It was this re­porter’s first trip to the Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic, a trip I started at JFK, with stops in San Fran­cisco and Shang­hai. The term“jet lag”didn’t ap­ply. This was some­thing far fiercer.

My first glimpse of 1958-vintage Bei­jing Cap­i­tal Air­port did noth­ing to dis­pel the dol­drums. The 30-year old ter­mi­nal had seen bet­ter days. Out on the tar­mac a Soviet-built IL-18 was just start­ing its en­gines; a bit fur­ther out a shop-worn Iran Air 747SP squat­ted, semi-shrouded by the cap­i­tal city’s seem­ingly per­pet­ual pol­lu­tion. Out­side of those air­craft, the air­port ap­peared all but empty.

What a dif­fer­ence a cou­ple of decades of Chi­nese-style cap­i­tal­ism makes. In 2008 PEK (the air­port code hear­kens back to the days the city was called Pek­ing) opened its mas­sive new Ter­mi­nal 3, aka‘The Dragon,’ just in time for the Olympic Games. PEK was by then Bei­jing Cap­i­tal In­ter­na­tional Air­port, a place ca­pa­ble of mov­ing 80 mil­lion pas­sen­gers per year. But even then it was burst­ing at its metaphor­i­cal seams.

Come 2019 Bei­jing plans to open a new mega­port south of the city in Dax­ing. PEK will still be around, but Cap­i­tal and Dax­ing will share the load. The lat­ter will, ac­cord­ing to a pre­pared re­lease by Bei­jing Cap­i­tal In­ter­na­tional Air­port Co., Ltd., even­tu­ally tak­ing care of some 100 mil­lion souls each year.

Ac­cord­ing to re­ports from Reuters, Li Ji­ax­i­ang, head of China’s Civil Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion, says the coun­try will spend some $80 bil­lion on projects in 2015 alone.“Air­port build­ing should be a bit ahead of de­mand. Judg­ing from the ex­pe­ri­ence of the de­vel­oped world,” con­tends Li,“Our air­port con­struc­tion is far from enough.”

Beauty Abounds

China re­mains fer­tile ground for air­port plan­ners, engi­neers and ar­chi­tects. Arup air­port plan­ning terms PEK’s Ter­mi­nal 3 “one of the world’s more en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able air­port ter­mi­nal build­ings.” The Dragon“was de­signed to re­spond to Bei­jing’s cold win­ters and hot sum­mers. Its soar­ing, aero­dy­namic roof uses sky­lights to make the most of the sun’s heat and light, bathing pas­sen­gers in shades of red and gold,”col­ors for good luck and wealth.

Air­port ar­chi­tects Foster + Part­ners say those sky­lights ac­tu­ally are an“aid to ori­en­ta­tion – the color cast chang­ing from red to yel­low as pas­sen­gers pass through the build­ing.”

More pro­saically, Foster + Part­ners con­tends Ter­mi­nal 3 is prac­ti­cal.“Trans­port con­nec­tions are fully in­te­grated, walk­ing dis­tances for pas­sen­gers are short, with few level changes, and trans­fer times be­tween flights are min­i­mized.”

Prac­ti­cal, yes – but per­haps passé by the time Dax­ing makes its de­but some four years from now.

From the air, PEK’s prime struc­ture mim­ics a dragon. Dax­ing’s Ter­mi­nal 1 looks more like an ex­quis­ite flower, leaves un­fold­ing to fling fliers on their way. ADP Ingéniere (ADPI), a sub­sidiary of Aéro­ports de Paris, won the de­sign com­pe­ti­tion for the struc­ture. Again, the idea was to blend prac­ti­cal­ity and beauty into a unique sig­na­ture pack­age.

The ter­mi­nal it­self is sur­pris­ingly com­pact. ADPI in­ge­niously de­cided to stack in­ter­na­tional and do­mes­tic lev­els ver­ti­cally, in­stead of spread­ing them out hor­i­zon­tally. In a pre­pared re­lease the com­pany says,“This in­no­va­tion led to de­sign­ing a com­pact ter­mi­nal with a sin­gle pas­sen­ger han­dling cen­ter serv­ing ra­dial board­ing piers.”

Why is that im­por­tant for pas­sen­gers? Ac­cord­ing to ADPI,“the dis­tance be­tween the ter­mi­nal cen­ter and the far­thest board­ing gate is around 650 yards.” That’s less, as­serts ADPI,“than Asian and Euro­pean ter­mi­nals with sim­i­lar ca­pac­ity.”

Then there’s the sky­light ef­fect (although per­haps dimmed a bit by the all but ubiq­ui­tous smog). Di­rec­tional ori­en­ta­tion is de­signed to be or­ganic. ADPI says.

“Pas­sen­gers can easily find their way within the open in­te­rior lay­out of the ter­mi­nal, grav­i­tat­ing nat­u­rally to the grand sky­light cen­tral area where shops and ser­vices are lo­cated, and then walk­ing straight ahead to their gate.”

More Places Get New Public Faces

First im­pres­sions mat­ter. And a busi­ness trav­eler’s ini­tial take on a place is oft times pred­i­cated on the air­port. Reuters says Chi­nese gov­ern­ment plan­ners es­ti­mate that by 2020 there will be 40 more com­mer­cial air­ports in China than there are to­day. That will bring the bur­geon­ing tally to some 240.

The west-cen­tral city of Chengdu is on a fast track. China’s fourth-largest city is prompt­ing Western air­lines to link it non­stop with their ma­jor hubs. Case in point: United’s launch last year of 787 Dream­liner non­stops from its San Fran­cisco hub.

The en­vi­rons around CTU (that’s the city’s air­port code) are the birthplace of baby Pan­das, hot Sichuan cui­sine, and 80 per­cent of this planet’s iPads. For­tune

500 com­pa­nies love the place. But, as this writer can at­test, the city’s Shuan­gliu air­port is want­ing in terms of ameni­ties and am­bi­ence – not to men­tion the all-tooim­por­tant room to grow.

In June we got word that the ADPI would lend its tal­ents to con­struc­tion of the city’s sec­ond air­port. From on high the new air­port’s ter­mi­nals will take the form of sun­birds, a sym­bol that dates back some 3,000 years for the peo­ple of Sichuan Province. The panel which made the de­ci­sion to adopt the de­sign called the plan “fash­ion­able, adapt­able,”but also found it “func­tion­ally and eco­nom­i­cally”prefer­able.

With a planned de­but date some­time in 2020, Chengdu’s new air­port means the city will join Bei­jing and Shang­hai as the third ma­jor Chi­nese city to be served by two com­mer­cial air­ports. As with Shang­hai, when the new Chengdu air­port opens the old one will be rel­e­gated to largely serv­ing do­mes­tic fliers. In Shang­hai that’s’the di­vi­sion of la­bor: Pudong gets the true in­ter­na­tional traf­fic and ven­er­a­ble Hongqiao do­mes­tic and re­gional flights.

Pudong’s Ter­mi­nal 2 opened in 2008. As you may al­ready know, eight is an aus­pi­cious num­ber for the Chi­nese, be­to­ken­ing good luck. Bei­jing Cap­i­tal opened Ter­mi­nal 3 in 2008, and so on. The grand open­ing for Bei­jing’s new Dax­ing air­port was ini­tially to have been 2018.

PVG’s Ter­mi­nal 1 and Ter­mi­nal 2 come close to mir­ror­ing one another ar­chi­tec­turally, with a few dif­fer­ences. Ter­mi­nal 1 is the larger of the two and has more of a wave-like shape; Ter­mi­nal 1’s curves more re­sem­ble a seag­ull.

Ei­ther way, PVG is wear­ing well in its short ex­is­tence. Most busi­ness trav­el­ers know it as the air­port which sports the ma­glev train. The route whisks riders from the air­port to Longyang Road sta­tion in Pudong proper. From there, you trans­fer for the sub­way ride to city cen­ter.

An in­creas­ingly im­por­tant Chi­nese air gate­way is Guangzhou’s Baiyun In­ter­na­tional. The south­ern Chi­nese city is a pow­er­house, and so is its air­port. Home­town car­rier China South­ern Air­lines of­fers non­stop ser­vice to NewYork Kennedy, Los An­ge­les, San Fran­cisco and Van­cou­ver.

For the Chi­nese, four is also an aus­pi­cious num­ber. The new Baiyun re­placed an older air­port of the same name (Baiyun means White Cloud) back in 2004. Plans are to open a mag­nif­i­cent new Ter­mi­nal 2 at CAN (the code de­rives from the days when Guangzhou was known as Can­ton) in 2018. A third run­way for CAN was com­pleted in 2014. Could be just co­in­ci­dence, but we’re be­gin­ning to de­tect a pat­tern here.

Fly­ing High or Slow­ing Down?

As things now stand, US fliers have es­sen­tially four op­tions to fly to China non­stop: Bei­jing, Shang­hai, Guangzhou and Chengdu. But a fifth air­port could be wait­ing in the wings. Say hello to Kun­ming Chang­shui In­ter­na­tional, code name KMG.

Numero­log­i­cally, the stage could be set for good things to come. Chang­shui opened at 08:00 (UTC+8) on June 28, 2012. As luck would have it – and what may be a hint of in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal so­journs to come – China Eastern Air­lines al­ready con­nects KMG non­stop to Paris Charles de Gaulle.

Arup had a hand in de­sign­ing the air­port, whose ter­mi­nal is evoca­tive of a golden bird. Like most new air­ports of re­cent con­struc­tion in China, KMG’s de­sign is curvi­lin­ear. That de­sign stresses har­mony, a key char­ac­ter­is­tic of Chi­nese cul­ture. The ter­mi­nal is also rem­i­nis­cent of a tra­di­tion­alYun­nan Province struc­ture, re­plete with a“dou­ble-slope”rooftop.

The build­ing binge won’t last for­ever. Time will come when the Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic of China will cease plant­ing suc­ces­sive crops of new su­per­ports. But that point hasn’t come yet, and busi­ness trav­el­ers are the ben­e­fi­cia­ries. Just ask any of them who dis­em­barked at dowdy Bei­jing Cap­i­tal Air­port back in the eight­ies, de­plan­ing into a post-Mao/pre-mod­ern stitch in time. They’d have been hard-pressed to pre­dict the skyquake that was about to rock the most pop­u­lous coun­try on the planet. BT

Above: Bei­jing Cap­i­tal In­ter­na­tional Air­port Be­low: Ter­mi­nal 3

Im­age: Kun­ming Chang­shui In­ter­na­tional

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