Beijing's brand-new aviation hub, Daxing Airport (PKX) officially opened at the end of September, just in time for the PRC's momentous 70th anniversary celebrations. Following several weeks of handling purely domestic traffic, last week saw its first international flights, an outbound China Airways route to Bangkok and an inbound British Airways flight from London Heathrow, both on the morning of October 27. A few days later, I was fortunate to arrive on this same route from London, BA39.
My first impressions? It's big. It's modern. It's quiet (for now). And it's far from downtown Beijing. In fact, it's not even really in Beijing, located closer to another city, Langfang. Having just flown overnight and with luggage in tow, I opted for a taxi to my destination inside the second ring road.
Thanks to good traffic conditions, the journey took little over an hour, comparable to the travel time for Beijing's existing international hub, Capital Airport (PEK). The fare, however, was almost twice as expensive at around 200 yuan, due to the much greater distance driven. But there are several, cheaper public transit options, including buses and a high-speed train line, which are either already in service or under construction.
Before heading into the city, I caught a glimpse of the huge Daxing terminal building. It was clear as soon as we touched down that this is a sprawling, state-of-the-art airport, albeit with distinctly fewer planes than you might normally expect at a major hub. It's unlikely to stay quiet for long, however, with many domestic and international carriers expected to launch services over the coming year.
The current lack of traffic was confirmed by the shiny, new LED screens in baggage reclaim, which listed the London flight as the only international arrival that morning. Incidentally, it's rather fitting that Daxing's first international arrivals should come from Britain, the naturalised home of the airport's Iraqi architect, the late Zaha Hadid.
BA's fellow OneWorld carrier FinnAir and Royal Brunei Airlines are among the few international carriers to have already started operations at Daxing. They join a growing number of domestic airlines at PKX, including China United Airlines and China Eastern.
As I exited the airport, I was struck by the terminal's impressive architectural design, which is unlike any other I've seen, perhaps with the exception of another futuristic Chinese airport, Shenzhen Bao'an (SZX). Beijing clearly wants Daxing not only to become a major global aviation hub, but at the same time serve as a statement of China's confidence and assertiveness on the global stage.
The construction in the departures hall is just as breath-taking, as I was able to see on a flight out of China a couple months later.
It's one of the few airports I've been to which has an outdoor area inside the terminal. Not only that, it also features a traditional Beijing courtyard and garden!
And there are some other nice touches inside the building. These keep you distracted while walking quite a long way from security to the departure gates. (There's no in-terminal transit at Daxing.)
One final, #avgeek postscript: a quirk of the new Daxing Airport is its IATA code, "PKX". This is interesting as the letters P and K refer to Peking (the former romanisation of Beijing), just like the city's first major hub, Capital Airport ("PEK"). Could it be that China's air traffic authorities wanted to maintain some consistency between Beijing's two international airports? Or was this the only suitable three-letter combination currently available? (Alternatives such as "BJX", "BDX" and "DAX" are already taken.) Who knows? And, quite frankly, who cares...
Header Image: The striking, "starfish-shaped" design of Beijing's second major airport (Source: iStockPhoto).