Lonely Planet Writer

The newest airport in the world looks like an alien spacecraft

A new airport set to open in Běijīng next year is on path to becoming the world’s largest airport. Designed by the late star architect Zaha Hadid, it has been described by one observer as looking like an alien spacecraft on the southern Daxing horizon.

Beijing Airport 2019
When the airport is complete 75 million passengers will pass through annually. Image by Zaha Hadid Architects/Methanoia

With the city’s existing airport at capacity, the new international airport will service 45 million passengers in the first phase over four runways. By 2025 further expansion will see 75 million passengers serviced annually. It is set to vie with Atlanta International Airport, currently the world’s busiest airport hub.

Beijing Airport from the sky
The airport is situated 46 kilometres from the centre of Beijing. Image by Zaha Hadid Architects/Methanoia

The airport terminal of the $12 billion dollar structure is set to open in June of 2019, and was designed, according to the Zaha Hadid team, to “evoke the harmony and balance evidence in Chinese landscapes, while its colors and materials are an expression of visual language within traditional Chinese culture.”

Passengers will move through a series of walkways to reach their gates. Image by Zaha Hadid Architects/Methanoia

The new terminal is double the size of Heathrow Terminal 5, with the maximum distance for passengers to travel between gates capped at 600 metres. Despite the size and volume of passengers, the engineers Burohappold and design team stress they wanted to create a space that was inviting for passengers and characterised by open interiors. At the heart of the terminal is the space-like, central hub with six connected walkways in the air, that will make navigating the terminal easier.

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Although the airport is situated 46 kilometres from the centre of Běijīng, it will be serviced by a high speed train bringing passengers into a new city station. With work now being completed on the interior of the terminal, the hope is it will ease the pressure on the city’s Capital International Airport. “Our worry isn’t whether or not we’ll have this many passengers but whether we’ll be able to satisfy demand,” according to Jia Zhiguo, an assistant general manager on the project.

What is the largest airport in the world?

Atlanta‘s Hartsfiend-Jackson International Airport has been the busiest airport in the world each year since 1997. Over 100 million passengers passed through last year. Part of the reason for the demand for Atlanta? More than 80% of the population of the US is within a two-hour flight of the airport. Last year almost 1.5 billion passengers passed through the top 20 busiest airports in the world, according to Airports Council International. Next on the list is Běijīng Capital International Airport followed by Dubai International Airport and Tokyo‘s Haneda Airport.